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ECU Planner finds East suffers from poverty, low growth

(May 12, 2005)   —   An East Carolina University professor’s new analysis of data from the U. S. Census Bureau for the past 30 years shows that North Carolina’s rural and coastal areas suffer from high levels of poverty and low levels of education and economic growth, despite the state’s efforts to improve conditions.

Mulatu Wubneh, professor and chair of ECU’s department of planning, found that, in 2000, 90 percent of the 41 counties in eastern North Carolina have a poverty rate above the state average of 12.3 percent, with most of these counties’ rates between 15 and 24 percent.

“The purpose of this study is to create awareness and get a handle on some of the issues we face in the state. The poverty rate in the east is startling,” Wubneh said. Part of the reason for this disparity has to do with the lack of infrastructure and industry, he said, and state policies that fail to target region-specific issues.

“The state needs to come up with specific policies to look at the problems of these areas. They’re different from other areas. All cities and counties are viewed as if they are the same,” Wubneh said. “But there are pockets of poverty and affluence that exist, side by side.”

Compounding the disparity is that regions and cities that have historically enjoyed economic growth continue to do so, while less-developed areas continue to be left behind.

“It is much easier for areas already doing well to continue to do well. It’s easier for Charlotte or Raleigh to grow than it is for a little town in Hyde County,” he said.

In an article published in Carolina Planning: the Planning Journal of the Southeast, Wubneh examined the shift in income, education and poverty levels in the state’s mountain, piedmont and coastal areas. He also surveyed the data set isolating urban and rural counties. While all three of the state’s geographic regions have managed to lower their poverty rates in the past 30 years, Wubneh found that rural and eastern counties have the most trouble keeping up with state averages.

Wubneh sought to determine if per capita income convergence has occurred in the past 30 years. Economic convergence indicates that income differences will narrow over time, whereas economic divergence means that gap will widen. Data show that convergence has happened across the state, but when it is examined by region, economic divergence is revealed on the coast and in the piedmont regions. Wubneh said this suggests that these low-income pockets are not being integrated into the regional economy.

The U.S. Census is taken every 10 years. The 2000 data is the most recent available. Other data compiled for Wubneh’s analysis include:

• Population increased 16 percent in eastern North Carolina from 1990-2000.

• More than 62 percent of adults in the mountain and piedmont areas had graduated from high school and college in 2000, compared to 33.2 percent of all adults living in the east.

• Per capita real income ( income after adjusting for inflation) for eastern North Carolina is $13,325, which is 85.1 percent of the state average of $15,655. The Piedmont per capita income average is $17,307; Mountain per capita income is $13,851.

• Farming employment in eastern North Carolina has decreased from 22.1 percent of total employment in 1970 to 4.9 percent in 2000; Manufacturing jobs decreased from 18.8 percent in 1970 to 14 percent in 2000; service jobs increased from 14 percent in 1970 to 22.7 percent in 2000.


Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481