In North Carolina, more fall into poverty

Census survey also finds fewer people in the top income level

Staff WriterSeptember 29, 2010 

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CORRECTION

A story Wednesday about the Census Bureau's American Community Survey included the wrong population for the city of Durham. The city's 2009 estimated population was 229,147, according to the survey.

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More than 1.47 million people in North Carolina lived in poverty in 2009, an increase over the previous year that provides another indicator of how the distressed economy continues to batter the middle class.

Between 2008 and 2009, an additional 169,000 people in the state found themselves living below the poverty line, according to American Community Survey estimates released Tuesday. The annual reports from the U.S. Census Bureau provide a wide range of economic, demographic and social data, culled from a nationwide sample of 3 million households.

The results are not a part of the decennial census collected earlier this year. The first numbers from the 2010 Census will be released at the end of this year.

About 16.3 percent of state residents lived below the poverty line last year. North Carolina had the 14th highest poverty rate among states and was tied at 13th for percentage of children living in poverty, at 22.5 percent. Median household income took a hit as well, falling about $2,500 to $43,674.

'An emerging poor'

The numbers did not surprise Tara Kenchen, chief operating officer of the nonprofit N.C. Community Development Initiative. As more in the middle class lose their jobs, more will find themselves below the poverty threshold, which is about $22,000 for a family of four.

"We are still in the trenches with the traditional poor," she said. "But we also have an emerging poor."

The state also has fewer people in the higher income brackets. The number of households with an income of more than $200,000 fell by a fraction of a percentage point.

"If North Carolina is struggling in the middle and upper classes, it just pushes down. The poor are getting poorer," said Kenchen, whose organization provides grants and technical assistance to community development corporations across the state.

Other highlights:

The state's population grew an estimated 1.7 percent from 2008 to 2009, to 9.38 million.

The Triangle continued its rapid growth, with Raleigh's population reaching 405,197, an increase of about 10 percent. Cary grew even faster - 17 percent - to 137,163. Durham added about 4,000 people, with its population increasing to 93,673. Chapel Hill's population was not large enough to be included in the survey.

Across the state, about 84 percent of people have health insurance. Triangle counties ranged from a high of 89 percent in Orange County to a low of 83 percent in Johnston County.

About 18 percent of people statewide have a bachelor's degree. The percentages vary widely in the Triangle. In Johnston County, that figure is 17 percent; it's 22 percent in Orange County, 24 percent in Durham County and 32 percent in Wake County.

The median household income in Orange County fell from $55,717 to $50,159, as measured in 2009 inflation-adjusted dollars, the biggest dip of any Triangle county. Wake County has the highest median household income, at $63,609.

For more data from the American Community Survey, see factfinder.census.gov.

matt.ehlers@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4889

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