Nearly 25% of North Carolinians live in areas where income is low, high school degrees are rare, and jobs are hard to come by. Women in these regions are sicker, have more problems in pregnancy, and have far less chance at having anything resembling retirement or generational wealth.
Overwhelmingly, these areas — called “distressed” in a recent report from the Economic Innovation Group — are clustered in North Carolina’s rural regions. Although income inequality occurs in urban areas, most unequal populations occur in counties in the far east and west, such as Graham or Washington.
However, one central NC city has the distinction of being the #11 most unequal region in the United States. That honor falls to Greensboro, in which 22% of people live in distressed zip codes. Those who live in more affluent zip codes hold so much more wealth than their impoverished neighbors that the city ranks alongside Atlanta, GA, in terms of inequality.
This has long been a problem in North Carolina — and in the southern US in general. Agriculture-based economies cannot hold a candle to urban tech-based centers. But income and sales taxes apply equally to people in both areas. Lawmakers often legislate from positions of privilege, and overlook our state’s least wealthy residents.
In North Carolina, hundreds of thousands of people need health insurance and cannot afford it due to the legislature declining medicaid expansion. We deny food stamps to those out of work — a population who lives mainly in the poor, rural areas where jobs are statistically nearly impossible to find.
We also have recently passed voter ID laws, which unfairly punish those in areas where public transit is almost nonexistent, and voting precincts are hard to reach. Food deserts in these areas mean adults and children alike have trouble finding anything to eat that’s healthier and more affordable than a frozen pizza. A decline in funding for pre-k has led to lower educational outcomes for kids who aren’t lucky enough to be born in Raleigh or Charlotte.
Our state is comprised of 100 counties, and life is radically different for people in each them. Even within counties such as Guilford, home to Greensboro, families have access to enormously different opportunities. We must encourage lawmakers to remember all families when they pass laws that only benefit urban residents.
We must also work within our communities to ensure fair wages and benefits for all workers. And finally, we have to vote. We need to vote for those who believe women, rural residents, and people of all ages and races should have the same benefits as those in places of privilege.