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New poverty data: Federal COVID-19 aid averted financial disaster for many North Carolina families

Poverty data for 2021 show some of the impacts of federal aid during COVID-19.

(Sept. 15, 2022) — Poverty statistics released today from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show some of the vital help that federal COVID aid delivered to North Carolina families. Instead of seeing financial hardship explode due to economic disruptions caused by the pandemic, federal assistance actually contributed to a modest reduction in poverty and a marked reduction in the number of children living in poverty.

“As tragic as it has been, COVID-19 could have been even more devastating if the federal government hadn’t stepped up to help families facing a generational crisis,” said Logan Rockefeller Harris, Senior Policy Analyst with the NC Budget & Tax Center. “Lifelines like the expanded Child Tax Credit, stimulus checks, supplemental Unemployment Insurance payments, rental assistance, and other aid averted financial disaster for many North Carolinians and showed the power of public policy to tackle poverty.”

Compared to data from 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic started, figures for 2021 indicate:

  • Around 30,000 fewer children in North Carolina lived in poverty.
  • The overall median income increased by roughly $1,200
  • The overall poverty rate decreased modestly, even during a financial crisis

The challenge now that federal assistance has largely dried up is what will happen to families that continue to feel the financial impacts of COVID-19. Many North Carolinians still can’t work because they lack child care and many peoples’ wages have not kept up with the cost of basic necessities like food, gas, and housing. These issues could get even worse if Federal Reserve efforts to reduce inflation result in a recession.

“The data from last year show some of the benefits of robust governmental intervention in a moment of crisis. The question now is whether policymakers at the state and federal apply that lesson to how we rebuild from this experience,” said Alexandra Sirota, Executive Director with the NC Budget & Tax Center. “North Carolina policymakers can choose to support struggling households and can choose to make sure corporations are contributing through their share of taxes to strengthen our public institutions that make sure every North Carolinian can thrive.”

For more information about the data release, contact Logan Rockefeller Harris, [email protected] or Patrick McHugh, [email protected].

Additional Resources

Economic County Snapshots for all 100 counties can be found here.

Proactive Policy Ideas for North Carolina can be found here: