Poverty rose faster in Mecklenburg than in N.C., U.S.

Two weeks ago, the Census Bureau’s announcement of national income and poverty figures for 2010 filled the headlines, and the news was not good. In 2010, real income continued to fall, settling about where it was in the mid-1990s, and the poverty rate increased for the third consecutive year to its highest level in 17 years (click here for Census press release).  The statistics only confirm what people across the country already knew: The recession may be officially over, but the financial and social wounds it inflicted continue. As new data released by the Census Bureau this week show, Mecklenburg County is no exception.  

The quick facts:

In 2010, nearly 139,000 residents in Mecklenburg County (15.3 percent of the county’s total population) were living in poverty. One in five children in Mecklenburg County (almost 49,000 children under age 18) was living below the poverty line.  The 2010 median household income for the county was around $52,000.

The trends:

In 2005, the poverty rate in Mecklenburg County was 2 percentage points below the national average and nearly 4 points below that for the state of North Carolina (Figure 1).   By 2009, however, Mecklenburg County’s poverty rate had nearly caught up with the national average, and the distance between the county and the state had narrowed considerably.  In 2010, the poverty rate in Mecklenburg County was dead even with the national rate. 

Figure 1

The sheer number of Mecklenburg County residents in poverty increased by 58 percent between 2005 and 2010.  For comparison, the overall population of Mecklenburg County increased by only 18 percent over the same time period.

One unsettling truth is that children, who are especially vulnerable to the effects of poverty, experience poverty in greater proportions than the overall population.   Other than that upsetting difference, the trend in the child poverty rates for Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and the nation over the last five years look nearly identical to that for the overall poverty rate (Figure 2);  Mecklenburg County was faring better than the state and national averages, but the gap has nearly disappeared.

Figure 2

Take a closer look at children by age group, and you will find that younger children have higher incidences of poverty than older children.  In Mecklenburg County, nearly one quarter (24 percent) of children under age 5 lived in poverty in 2010, while only 19 percent of children ages 5 to 11 and 21 percent of those ages 12 to 17 lived in poverty. 

The trajectory of median household income also shadows the recent economic woes in Mecklenburg County (Figure 3).  After its most recent peak in 2008, the median household income in Mecklenburg County fell 7.5 percent in 2009 and inched down another percent to a little more than $52,000 in 2010.  However, the median household income in Mecklenburg County was still nearly $10,000 more than the median for North Carolina.

Figure 3

One consolation to be found among these recent figures is that although these trends are disconcerting, they are mostly on par with what has happened in the year immediately following previous recent recessions.  Of course, for those individuals who are reflected in these statistics, knowing that they are merely part of a normal historical trend is not likely to make their circumstances any less painful.

Sources: American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010

Claire Apaliski and Laura Simmons

Photograph by Nancy Pierce