You’ve probably heard the saying that numbers don’t lie. But when it comes to understanding poverty, the numbers certainly can be deceiving.
According to the latest Census Bureau data, the overall poverty rate in the United States is 11.4%. But that figure masks tremendous variations across the country, from a high of 18.8% in Mississippi to a low of 5.3% in New Hampshire. North Carolina falls in between at 13.2%.
Of course, differences in poverty exist within states as well. The newly-released Prosperity Now Scorecard is an excellent tool for examining the economic wellbeing of a given location and comparing it with other places across the country.
Mecklenburg County’s Scorecard, based on data from 2019, paints an optimistic picture overall. On most measures, our community appears to be thriving. Our poverty rate of 8.4% is considerably lower than both the national and state rates. We also have a relatively low unemployment rate (3.8%) and a high percentage of adults with a college degree (45.4%).
But when those numbers are broken down by race, a very different picture emerges.
Of course, having employment, sufficient income, and a good education are critical factors in attaining financial stability. But acquiring assets and building wealth is the key to achieving genuine economic security, so the number of families in Mecklenburg County with zero net worth is of particular concern. Overall, nearly 1 in 5 households here have absolutely no financial cushion to fall back on. But households of color, particularly Black families, are much more likely to accumulate no wealth, making them especially vulnerable to unexpected financial strain.
The creator of the Scorecard, Prosperity Now, is a research and advocacy organization that envisions “an economy that is just, fair, and free from structural racism. One where every person, family, and community has the power to build sustainable wealth and prosperity.”
Their website, prosperitynow.org, contains a treasure trove of free information that anyone can use to increase their knowledge and understanding of the complex issues related to financial wellbeing. These innovative resources are designed for use in the pursuit of economic equity and justice.
For local level insights, spend some time exploring Mecklenburg County’s Scorecard. Along with the type of data illustrated above, you will find information on homeownership, entrepreneurship, health insurance coverage, and more, broken down by race, gender, family type, and nativity.
To ensure everyone in our community has an equal opportunity to thrive, we must begin with acknowledging that racial inequities exist. The Prosperity Now Scorecard puts the data in a user-friendly format so you can dig deep below the surface and uncover the truth that is all too often obscured by the numbers.