Poverty is not just a seven-letter word; it is a state of being for over 46 million Americans and their families and over 1.7 million or 18% of North Carolina families. It is invasive and merciless when it comes to measuring quality of life and the potential future of not only communities but regions such as northeastern North Carolina where rates of poverty escalate to $20% and over 30% for kids. As the General Assembly looks to galvanize under a rubric of productive placement of bills and other legislation that will better the lifestyle of all North Carolinians, then taking a real shot at poverty and prescribing aid, must be a pressing legislative imperative.
As the state handles its fiscal crisis, a large component of that has to be in consideration of the poor. Alongside all legislation is a human community. Every mark on a pad or strike of language; voice vote or other, impacts the poor. Whether the impact is direct or indirect, they become the balancing act. In an effort to rid the state of such dreadful contrast with every act of “it’s for the future of our state, our community our kids,” consider legislation and measure its impact on the poor that exist within the present moment.
Cost of living continues to grow. Gas prices, food prices, the cost for basic staples such as milk and cheese and bread- all continue to rise in cost. Feeding a family of four costs from $135 weekly/ $587 monthly at the lowest- thrifty end/according to USDA. When you calculate three standard meals a day for four people times one week, realistically speaking, this is almost impossible to do. Raising a family of four in a household with kids who are growing, there are more than three meals a day. There are the snacks in the middle and all over the place during the day. And, if that snack is a fruit grapes, apples or oranges, let’s say the basic dietary supplements that have any hint of being “healthy,” it will skyrocket everything.
To really put into perspective the poor and dietary comparisons, consider a more liberal food plan for a family of four and their kids. The USDA projected cost is about $268.00 a week/$1100 monthly…imagine that. The food a wealthier household purchases is from the same general food market of poor families. The stores may differ by name, but theoretically, families living in the same community no matter where on the economic ladder- low or high end, pretty much access similar food markets. So, what’s the difference? For some things, like meat, fruit, vegetables, milk, and so forth, the difference happens to the quality of those items. Meet that is 83% lean compared to 97% or whether pork, red meat, or chicken, fish, turkey, or whether vegetables are canned, frozen or fresh, organic, vegan, raw or not, all affect cost and at some point, health outcomes.
In other words, poverty is not simply poor people dissected on pages of reports each with a corresponding column and number. They are active, living, real beings. They have dreams and aspirations for themselves and their families just like any other family. The difference is somewhere along life’s journey “life” happened. Their decisions or that of their family, some generations back, did not correspond with the reality of life in real time. The impact of their decision making has cost them years of lack and labeling that has not been kind. So what do we do about all this?
Breaking the cycle of poverty in the state will require more than intermittent funding to agencies who work hard at this every day praying from one year to the next their funding is not cut. They need the security on the ground, they will be supported long term. And it will take a team of dedicated people who really understand poverty and is passionate about its eradication to get underneath the issue and bring real substantive change that pleases even the naysayers.