An economic snapshot of 2009-10 found half the county’s renter population couldn’t afford a two-bedroom apartment over the past two years, while one in every 75 homeowners faced foreclosure during that time.
The report, released by the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center (BTC) this week, found a working parent with two children would have to pull down $18 an hour to make it comfortably, well above the county’s average weekly wage, which is below $600. A two-parent, two-child household would have to pull down a combined hourly wage of more than $21 to make it, the data shows.
It also found that since the third quarter of 2007, the county has lost about a tenth of its jobs - 1,357.
BTC Alexandra Forter Sirota said that while 49 percent of renter families in the county can’t afford the fair market price for a place to stay doesn’t mean they’re out on the streets.
“I think what we’re seeing is a combination of families finding their own way to make it work by cutting back on other items in their budget, and many are also kept afloat by social policies that create a safety net to help lower-income families,” Sirota said. “In some cases, families would be living in housing that is less than two bedrooms. National data has shown - though we haven’t been able to compile the figures for North Carolina yet though there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that this is the case - that during the Great Recession families are doubling up and moving into multiple family households to make ends meet.”
Anecdotal evidence in the county also points toward a trend of more multiple family homes, as Our Daily Bread Food Ministry Director Debbie Rohleder said earlier this week that more and more instances of multiple families living under one roof have shown up in the food pantry’s clientele.
“I think it speaks to how unaffordable of housing throughout the state,” Sirota elaborated. “There is a point at which compromising other options in the household budget becomes not an option, and particularly when it comes to food and clothing because when children are denied they can become ill. That tends to be something families defend against even during the toughest of economic times.”
The report found the poverty rate in Richmond County nearly doubles that of the state - 30 versus 16.2 percent, and that about a third of county residents were considered low-income in 2009.
The county’s median household income, $30,449, equals about 70 percent of the state average.
An analysis of hunger across the country released earlier this week found about one in four Richmond County residents also experiences food insecurity, or don’t have enough to eat on a regular basis.
Data from county social services have also shown the numbers of working families who have applied for food and nutrition or other types of social assistance have also skyrocketed over the past two years, since the onset of the recession.
Meanwhile, stimulus funding expired in September for programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Richmond County Department of Social Services Income Maintenance Administrator Barrett Hollimon explained that from Dec. 2008 to Dec. 2010, 1,777 households were added to the county’s food stamp roles, accounting for about 3,500 people. The increase in food stamp benefits distributed figures to be more than $500,000.
“This isn’t something we typically see from a year-to-year period,” Hollimon said Wednesday. “Times are really tough right now.”
Sirota said the purpose of the report is to call attention to the plight of working families across the state facing significant challenges, and who are often also dependent on social programs such as unemployment insurance benefits, the state’s earned income tax credit and food and nutrition assistance, many of which are threatened by impending budget cutbacks.
“I think the discussions that are going on in Raleigh right now are going to have a far-reaching impact across the state,” Sirota said. “Working families need to have a voice in that process by sharing their experiences with their elected leaders, and making it clear the impact state policies play in helping them make ends meet.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 15, or by e-mail at email@example.com.