Poverty Tour Seeks to Show Reality of North Carolina Poverty

Mar 23, 2012

By Jodie Levin-Epstein and Leah Lucas

The tour revealed something that belied the stereotype of poverty: person after person after person was a worker, but nevertheless could not make ends meet. There was the woman who each day took the bus from the homeless shelter to her nurses' aid job; the story of the nearly 70 year old woman who each morning, after providing care for her husband who has had a stroke, leaves him at home where there is no heat, so she can make her next job of driving a school bus. In between her bus runs, she goes home to care for her husband. She then goes to her janitorial job at the end of day.

The North Carolina Truth and Hope Tour is currently underway and shining a spotlight on the reality of poverty around the state. Past U.S. poverty tours have been conducted by figures such as Senator Robert F. Kennedy, President Bill Clinton, and Senator Paul Wellstone, among others. These tours shed light on the real hardships many Americans face—hardships that too often go unrecognized or ignored.  

The tour is a project of a coalition of five North Carolina organizations and affiliates: NAACP; Justice Center; UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity; Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change; and the AARP.  The first and second legs of the 3-part tour took place in early 2012.The final leg will take place in late April.

Ironically, while the tour has been underway, State Representative George Cleveland claimed that no person in North Carolina lives in extreme poverty, especially in comparison to less developed countries.  He went so far as to call for the removal of language in a state report that described the level of extreme poverty. This notion that America's poor suffer comparatively little riffs off of a Heritage Foundation report that argues poverty in the U.S. is "grossly exaggerated"—a point many have called grossly misleading.

There was push-back to Cleveland's remarks even within his own party.  At the same hearing at which Cleveland sought to eliminate "extreme poverty" from a state report, the Committee co-chair and a fellow Republican, Rep. Justin Burr said he believes, "there are certainly people in this state who are hurting and who need assistance and who are struggling to get by." Cleveland ultimately withdrew his request to excise the reference to extreme poverty.    

Poverty in the U.S., while certainly a different kind of hardship than poverty in developing nations, is no picnic, and extreme poverty is worse. The official definition of poverty for a family of four is an income below $22,314 per year, which translates to $15.28 per person per day.  Extreme poverty in the U.S. is defined as under half that level, or below $7.64 per person per day.  In 2010, among those who were poor, more than 44 percent were in extreme poverty.  While these families are often eligible for government programs such as food stamps (formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), even with this help, too many remain in extreme poverty.


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