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Report: In the Cape Fear region, segregated networks are driving two separate economies

Low wage jobs are among the most abundant jobs in the region.
Low wage jobs are among the most abundant jobs in the region.

The non-profit Cape Fear Collective recently came out with a landmark study on equity in southeastern North Carolina, using data from the census and other surveys. The findings speak to a community still defined by segregation and inequality.
WHQR's Kelly Kenoyer spoke with data analyst Dante Haywood about those findings.

Kelly Kenoyer: One of the things that I noticed was, how so many jobs in the cape fear region come from networking — from existing networks people have. How does that tie in with the question of equity, and opportunity?

Dante Haywood: Yeah, this region, given its past and the way that the population numbers come out, the region is very highly segregated, as far as where people live. And when you're reading in the report, it says, ‘I can't break into networks that would further my career.’ I think a lot of that has to do with just quite frankly, a lot of where people live within the community and who they interact with.

KK: Right, so if you live in a segregated neighborhood with a community that has limited access to lucrative opportunities, you’re less likely to get a job that pays particularly well.

DH: I would say that's, like, 100% true. And we do speak to some of the barriers to escaping poverty and building equity within the report. And like you're saying, low wages, definitely sort of maintain someone at low wages. Poverty maintains people at low wages, because you’re never ever able to get your foot ahead or your foot in the door.

But we need people to consciously foster connections with people that are different than them. That's really the way that we go forward from here.

KK: Interesting — what you said about poverty wages, maintaining poverty. Can you say more about that? Because, you know, this American Dream thing, it's all about lifting yourself up by your bootstraps. I guess I'm curious about your take on that.

DH: You know, there are these huge barriers, when you are low income, to actually gaining wealth. If all your income is going to daily expenses, you don't have money to save, so you don't have a down payment. If you don't have money to save, you might not have good credit, or because you have to put things on credit cards. You may not have a, quite frankly, a wealthy network or intergenerational wealth within your family. And so you don't have a leg up or a toe up to get yourself from underneath poverty. And so when we say like, network and equity and what are the barriers to people actually, you know, getting to a stage where they can afford a home, where they can at least save a little bit for emergency expenses. The current wages within the region just aren't just not enough.

KK: When it comes to poverty, you guys outline the demographic data in really interesting ways. You talk about the gender pay gap in each county, which was, it was like $8,000, in New Hanover County… Could you outline the demographics of poverty in this region?

DH: Well, beyond the tale of two economies, and in pretty much every way that you can break it down across race, gender, income, age, anything you can think of where we're looking at a population that just has such huge stratification across those indicators.

KK: That’s right, so the median Hispanic female in New Hanover County, for example, makes $26,000 less than a white male. And those differences are really significant for African American women as well, and for Hispanic and black males. Onslow County had the smallest median pay gap across the board, though — less $7,000 for all those groups.

DH: And, again, when we're looking at, you know, averages or medians, we're not, we're not really looking at the everyday person, it doesn't properly describe the everyday experience of a lot of people those an average is, is a fictional person in a certain sense.

KK: So this isn’t exact, but it does show some concerning trends. Thank you to Dante Haywood from CFC for that analysis.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.