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Multiple strategies urged to fight poverty

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Even with impressive economic growth, poverty reduction and educational accomplishment, North Carolina suffers from deep and abiding poverty it should address through economic strategies that focus on chronically poor and mainly rural counties, economically-distressed urban neighborhoods, and communities that face “situational” poverty and unemployment from economic change and dislocation, a new study says.

“Despite much progress, poverty remains a daunting challenge – a challenge heightened by race, by region, by age, by sex and by family structure,” says the study, prepared for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation by the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

While mainly rural counties, particularly in eastern and western North Carolina, face “high and persistent” poverty levels, traditional metrics that gauge poverty on a county-wide basis “mask deep levels of severe urban poverty” in metro areas that otherwise are relatively prosperous, says the study, Documenting Poverty, Economic Distress and Challenge in North Carolina.

Those urban communities can have even higher rates of poverty, child poverty and unemployment, and lower rates of high-school graduation, average income and home-ownership, than their rural counterparts, the study says.

And it says the “recent massive recession, and the economic dislocations that preceded it, have had especially harsh impacts on specific regions of the state.”

Strategies to fight poverty and spur economic development require initiatives that are “both people-based and place-based,” the study says.

Educational attainment has enjoyed “impressive progress,” for example, “though it is also marked by disparities in race and locale,” with poverty rates remaining highest in single-parent, female-headed households.

Economic downturn and dislocation “do not strike all communities in North Carolina equally,” the study says.

“Some segments of the state have suffered acutely from changes wrought by globalization and wage competition from abroad,” it says. “Others have seen disproportionate negative impacts from the recession and commercial retractions of recent months.”

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