The 2008-2009 recession drove household income down and poverty rates up across North Carolina, including in the relatively affluent counties of the Triangle, according to numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau last month.
The poverty rate in Wake County rose an estimated 1.9 percentage points to 11.3 percent in the years 2010-2014, compared to the previous five-year period, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. In that same time, median household income, adjusted for inflation, dropped an estimated 5.7 percent, to $66,579, still the highest in the state.
There were similar patterns in Durham, Johnston and Chatham, as well as other urban counties in the state, including Mecklenburg, Forsyth and Guilford. One exception was Orange County, where poverty ticked up only slightly and median household income rose even after adjusted for inflation.
The census bureau compiled its data from annual surveys. Because of the relatively small numbers of responses in rural places, the estimates for many counties come with large margins of error that make comparisons over time and with other counties difficult.
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But in larger counties where the numbers are more accurate, they show the impact of job loss and the home foreclosure crisis, said Jim Johnson, a professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill. In some ways, metro areas fared worse in the recession compared to rural areas, which were already doing poorly, Johnson said.
“They didn’t have any place to go,” he said. “If you think about the recession and the reality of where the jobs were in our economy, it was not in the rural areas in the first place.”
The census numbers also highlight the lingering effects of the recession, Johnson said. While the unemployment rate in the Triangle is about half where it was six years ago, and developers are building high-profile projects again, there remain concentrated pockets of poverty, Johnson said.
“So you can live in the Triangle and if you don’t ever pass through these neighborhoods, you can think that life is pretty good,” he said.
Falling incomes, rising poverty
from 2005-2009 *
*adjusted for inflation
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey