For millions of Americans, it is, as the Charles Dickens adage goes, the worst of times. Poverty rates are extraordinarily high, prospects for living wage work are extremely low, and rates of hunger and homelessness are off the charts. For North Carolina, it appears, as the Dickens adage continues, to be “the age of foolishness ... the epoch of incredulity ... the season of Darkness ... the winter of despair ... ” as the UNC Board of Governors considers closing the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity.
It is impossible to imagine how, during this time of unprecedented rising inequality, North Carolina might even consider such a proposal. If there were ever a time in the history of this country that this organization is necessary, it is now.
I write out of deep concern at the prospect of this center being closed. As one who has diligently followed the work of the center, shared its work with students in poverty classes I teach and regularly writes on poverty, I can attest to its critical importance. It is a center that has provided guidance to many states as they tackle the growing problems of poverty on their home turf.
Almost two years ago, a colleague and I were inspired by the center’s yearlong series on poverty among residents of North Carolina. Taking lead from this phenomenal, heart-felt and gut-wrenching series, we approached one of our state’s largest newspapers, the Bangor Daily News, to follow North Carolina’s lead and report on Maine residents struggling in these times of despair.
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Our series, modeled after the one done by the center, ran for 18 months, concluding in January. We had a huge following and regular contact by state and local officials and legislators, and some of the people we profiled were contacted directly by agencies and organizations and individuals offering help.
UNC-CH has been a national model in considering the plight of its residents to make ends meet, to make do. The approaches used and the commitment made to explore this area of difficulty for many residents have been recognized throughout the country as critically important. Ridding the state of this center, in part because of political discomfort with its findings, is reckless and irresponsible – to the state, to its residents and to the nation as a whole.
I urge North Carolina officials to continue to support the center and important work it is doing during this time of grave distress for too many American citizens. Yes, we must get the country working and moving forward again. But it is only with the support and wisdom of centers like this one that that can be accomplished.
Luisa S. Deprez
Professor of Sociology, University of Southern Maine
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