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Pathways of rural poverty

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CHAPEL HILL and DURHAM, N.C. — Job status, health-related issues, family situation and budgeting are important factors in the economic health of rural North Carolina families, often combining to plunge them into or pull them out of poverty, a new study says.

The study, “Escaping Poverty and Becoming Poor in 13 Communities in Rural North Carolina,” was conducted by MDC, a Chapel Hill nonprofit, and Duke University’s Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy.

The study, conducted in the summer of 2005, is based on interviews with more than 300 families in Gates, Beaufort, Burke and Vance counties and was designed to develop local definitions of poverty based on reasons families say they moved into or out of poverty over a ten-year period.

In the decade studied, almost one in four sampled households moved out of poverty while slightly more than one in 10 fell into poverty, the study says.

Employment was cited as the most common factor in a family’s economic well-being and played an especially significant role between 2000 and 2005.

During that time, six in 10 families that descended into poverty associated the move with job loss, compared to only 16 percent during 1995-2000.

Health-related issues, including loss of insurance, were cited by four in 10 households as one of the main causes for falling into poverty during 2000-2005 compared to one in three during the first five-year period.

Family and community support, or lack thereof, accentuated the other factors, resulting in greater poverty or in helping a family move out of poverty.

But no one factor was enough to explain transitions into or out of poverty, the study says, and most households cited a combination of two or more causes.

“The value of this study is that we are not relying on some static definition of poverty that assumes poverty in Washington, N.C., is the same as poverty in Washington, D.C.,” MDC’s Leslie Boney said in a statement.

“Instead, local people are telling us what poverty looks like to them and, more importantly, which programs and services actually help them and which ones don’t,” he said.

The study was sponsored by The Duke Endowment’s Program for the Rural Carolinas and the Terry Sanford Institute.

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