Fast facts: About human needs & inequality in North Carolina

Between 2000 and 2004, North Carolina experienced the following:

  • A sharp drop in median household income.
  • A steady rise in the poverty rate.
  • A jump in the share of uninsured residents.


  • Median household income, adjusted for inflation, has fallen by $2,806 or 6.7 percent since 2000.[1]
  • 27 percent of workers earn less than $9.28 per hour, the amount needed to lift a family of four above the federal poverty line.[2]
  • Personal bankruptcy filings increased by 35.5 percent between 2000 and 2004.[3]


  • 1.2 million North Carolinians – 15.7 percent of the state’s population – live in poverty.[4]
  • 21.2 percent of all Tar Heel families with children younger than age five are poor.[5]
  • One of every five Tar Heel children lives in poverty.[6]
  • In 2003, 13 percent of whites, 32 percent of blacks and 38 percent of Hispanics were poor.[7]


  • 40.9 percent of renters and 29.7 percent of owners are housing burdened, meaning they spend at least 30 percent of their incomes on housing costs.[8]
  • Foreclosure filings nearly tripled from 15,000 to 44,000 between 1998 and 2004.[9]


  • 1.3 million North Carolinians – 16.5 percent of the state’s population – lack health insurance.[10]
  • North Carolina had the nation’s ninth highest teen pregnancy rate in 2002.[11]


  • 27,597 children currently are waiting for a child care subsidy.[12]
  • 30,016 children were substantiated as victims of child abuse and neglect in 2003.[13]
  • One-quarter of secondary students smoked in 2003.[14]

Public Education

  • Over one-third of high-school students fail to graduate four years after starting school.[15]
  • Minority students have a 50-50 chance of graduating high school on time.[16]


  • The percentage of Tar Heels lacking enough food for their family for an entire month rose from 9.8 percent to 13.7 percent between 1996-98 and 2001-03.[17]


  • 25,000 people in North Carolina have HIV/AIDS with African Americans accounting for 71 percent of the infected.[18]
  • North Carolina has the nation’s most restrictive eligibility criteria for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. People who make more than $11,600 per year are denied help to buy medicine that costs $13,000 a year. Every state that borders North Carolina has an eligibility threshold almost three times higher. [19]

Mental Health

  • North Carolina does not require all health insurers to cover mental illnesses like physical illnesses.[20]


  • The average prison population in 2004 equaled 35,098 – a 66.9 percent increase over 1993.[21]
  • African-Americans account for almost 60 percent of the prison population but only about 21 percent of the overall population.[22]
  • The typical adult entering the prison system in 2004 could read at a ninth-grade level and perform math at a seventh-grade level.[23]


  • State and local taxes consumed 10.9 percent of the incomes of the poorest 20 percent of taxpayers but 6.3 percent of the incomes of the richest one percent of taxpayers.[24]

Workforce Readiness

  • Two-thirds of North Carolina’s prime-age workers (ages 25-54) lack any kind of post-secondary degree or credential.[25]
  • One of every two North Carolinians over age 16 is deficient in basic literacy skills.[26]
  • 70 percent of young adults (ages 18-24) were not pursuing post-secondary education in 2003.[27]

Prepared for the A.J. Fletcher Foundation by NC Policy Watch ( and the NC Budget and Tax Center ( Update by John Quinterno.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, 2004 American Community Survey.
[2] Economic Policy Institute, analysis of 2004 Current Population Survey.
[3] American Bankruptcy Institute.
[4] U.S. Census Bureau, 2004 Current Population Survey. Poverty thresholds in 2004 were the following: one-person family = $9,645; two-person family = $12,234; three-person family = $15,067; four-person family = $19,307.
[5] U.S. Census Bureau, 2004 American Community Survey.
[6] Ibid.
[7] The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
[8] U.S. Census Bureau, 2004 American Community Survey.
[9] NC Administrative Office of the Courts.
[10] U.S. Census Bureau, 2004 Current Population Survey.
[11] The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of NC
[12] NC Division of Child Development, 31 July 2005
[13] NC Child Advocacy Institute and NC Institute of Medicine.
[14] Ibid.
[15] The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, May 2005.
[16] Ibid.
[17] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Household Food Insecurity in the U.S. 2003.
[18] NC Department of Health and Human Services.
[19] Ibid.
[20] National Mental Health Association
[21] Web site of NC Department of Correction, Office of Research and Planning.
[22] Ibid. and U.S. Census Bureau
[23] NC Department of Correction
[24] Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy.
[25] Population Reference Bureau, analysis of 2003 American Community Survey.
[26] North Carolina Literacy Center, 1998.
[27] Population Reference Bureau, analysis of 2003 American Community Survey.

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