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County-wide poverty rates for all Western North Carolina counties, released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, show that nearly one out of every five mountain residents lived in poverty last year in more than half of the region’s 17 counties.
Carolina Public Press analyzed the county-wide data for all residents and children under age 18. It showed that the hardest-hit county for all residents was Rutherford, where an estimated 25 percent of the residents lived in poverty last year. By way of comparison, the statewide poverty rate for 2010 was 17.4 percent. Graham County had the highest estimated poverty rate for children under age 18, where the level reached 34.2 percent, nearly 10 percentage points higher than the statewide rate, which was 24.6 percent.
In all but one county in the region, children under 18 lived in poverty at a higher rate than the statewide rate, which was 24.6 percent. The hardest-hit areas were, in addition to Graham County, Macon, Yancey, Clay, Cherokee, Rutherford, and Avery counties, where more than one out of three children under age 18 lived in poverty, according to the federal agency’s 2010 estimates. Only Buncombe County’s childhood poverty rate, at 24.2 percent, was lower than the state’s rate.
Nationally, between 2007 and 2010, the poverty rate for school-age children showed a statistically significant increase in about 20 percent of counties across the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The 2010 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) data are available for 3,142 counties and nearly 14,000 Title I-eligible school districts. The data represent the only current, single-year income and poverty estimates available for all sizes of counties and school districts.
Avery and Clay counties had the highest increase in childhood poverty rates since 2007, the point at which the national recession began, with both having more than a 10 percentage point increase in three years. That’s double the percentage-point increase statewide for the same time period.
There were areas, however, where the poverty rate remained largely unchanged.
Graham County had the third-highest rate in 2010 for all residents, but that rate was nearly the same as it was three years ago. Cherokee County’s rate only moved .7 percentage points, also, compared to a 8.6 percentage-point increase in three years for Rutherford County, which had the largest growth in its poverty rate than any other WNC county.
But poverty rates for children under 18 increased across the region between 2007 and 2010, estimates show, by at least 3.9 percentage points.