On a new list of the country's top-ten poorest cities, three are in North Carolina.
The three cities on this list are Lumberton, Roanoke Rapids and Forest City, which have average incomes of $28,293, $29,930 and $32,836, respectively, according to a Yahoo! Homes analysis of the 2012 American Community Survey. Economics professor Thomas Nechyba said these values may seem significant and of concern, but they only represent small, rural areas of North Carolina, not the state as a whole.
“I don’t think you can extrapolate much from three tiny cities in North Carolina,” he said.
The ACSreleases yearly statistics on the population of the United States such as age, race, location and income. These statistics, when sorted between different metropolitan and micropolitan areas, give insight into the wealth distribution of the country. Representatives of the ACS, which is part of the U.S. Census Bureau, were not available for comment in time for publication due to the government shutdown.
According to the data, the median U.S. household income in 2012 was $51,371. The 10 poorest cities are all considerably under this value and do not exceed an average income of $33,000. In addition, the low-income areas show similar geographical makeup. Nine out of 10 of the cities, for example, are from the South—the outlier being Gallup, N.M.—and six out of 10 have populations of fewer than 100,000.
People of Lumberton—the first poorest city—do not feel like they are in one of the poorest cities in the country, said Susan Walker, owner of Candy Sue's Downtown and member of the Lumberton Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
"The business that I run is doing just as well as it's always been doing," Walker said. "In a location such as ours, excessive money isn't really necessary. There are no signs of extreme poverty like the report would have you believe. Comfortable lifestyles are very prevalent in our small rural town."
Nechyba questioned the methods used to compile this list, saying that some important factors were left out of the process.
“All of these cities, for instance, are in low cost-of-living areas – but no adjustment is made to account for that," he noted. "[Fifty-thousand dollars] means a lot more in rural North Carolina than it does in New York City – but these kinds of lists completely ignore that.”
Josh Ellis, deputy secretary for communications and external affairs at the North Carolina Department of Commerce, also noted that several factors need to be considered when comparing incomes of different areas.
“The quality of life in these rural towns is not abhorrent,” Ellis said. “The income alone cannot be used as an indication of how they’re doing in terms of everyday life. Rural areas and metropolitan areas simply cannot be compared on the same scale.”