NEW HANOVER COUNTY — If you’re Black in New Hanover County, you’re likely living in poverty and receiving one or more government benefits, prompting the county to convene a task force to address the issue.
Linda Thompson, New Hanover County’s first chief diversity and equity officer, recently presented a 120-day assessment of the state of equity in New Hanover County to the county commission. After compiling the report, poverty data stuck out the most. Thompson found “more than 55 percent of the Black population received one or more NC FAST benefits – food stamps, childcare vouchers, or Medicaid — compared to 33 percent of Hispanics and 13 percent of whites. Food and nutrition were the most sought-after benefits.”
“The data magnified how bad it was in our community,” Thompson said.
Poverty in New Hanover county is concentrated and often segregated to the neighborhoods with a higher number of people of color. Nowhere is New Hanover County’s poverty disparity starker than in two predominantly Black census tracts on Wilmington’s Southside.
In Census Tract 110, which encompasses Greenfield Lake and Houston Moore, more than 90% of the children live below the federal poverty line — a family of four earning about $26,200 — making it the third poorest tract in the state and the 127th out of 73,000 census tracts nationwide.
Things don’t get better in Tract 111, from 5th to 16th streets, along the Dawson Street corridor. Almost half, 45% of home owners, are housing-burdened and pay over 30% of their income to residential costs. More than 55% of renters in Tract 111 are housing-burdened.
Across all six counties in the Cape Fear region, white households earn a higher median income than Black or Hispanic households, according to data from the Cape Fear Collective’s Racial Equity Dashboard. In New Hanover, white households earn two times more than Black households.
Some strides are being made around income equity. Though a raise in minimum wage failed in the latest Covid-19 relief bill, some local businesses are paying $15 an hour. The largest employer in three counties, Novant NHRMC, increased pay from $12.50 to $15 an hour as of Feb. 21.
“When employees earn higher wages, they have better access to key elements of health and the resources to improve their communities,” said John Gizdic, Novant Health executive vice president and chief business development officer, in a press release.
Thompson said much of what plagues the county are systemic problems — affordable housing, the education opportunity gap, and lack of transportation — all stemming from poverty. In hopes of finding solutions, she is launching a poverty reduction task force to come up with solutions to lower the poverty rate among people of color in New Hanover County.
“We talk about poverty a lot,” Thompson said, “but we don’t do anything about it.”
Her goal is to convene the task force for six months using a cross-sector approach. Invites went out to candidates Wednesday. Thompson wants 12 to 14 members, ranging from nonprofit leaders to government officials to members of the community who have or are living in poverty. Baking the lived experience into the task force’s work will only inform solutions, Thompson said.
“We put Band Aides on it,” she said. “The people trying to fix it haven’t lived it. This is something that needed to be done a long time ago.”
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