Thursday, May 6, 2010

Census Participation Way up in Edgecombe

For the past 10 years, many of Edgecombe County's citizens and elected officials have questioned the results of the 2000 Census. The population count came only about six months after Hurricane Floyd's flood waters devastated the area and forced many people from their homes. As a result, Edgecombe's mail-in Census participation rate in 2000 was 59 percent.

This time around, county and community leaders led a push to improve Census participation and they have something to be pleased about - 73 percent of Edgecombe County residents completed their Census forms. In a county that struggles with chronic high unemployment and other challenges, having an accurate measure of its population - and the federal dollars that could bring - is critical.

See how the rest of North Carolina's counties did in returning Census forms by mail.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Unemployment Falls in Edgecombe

North Carolina experienced relief, albeit small in some cases, with lower jobless rates in all 100 counties for the month of March. Edgecombe County's unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) dropped 1.5% to 15.6%.

Before - and even during - this recession, Edgecombe has often had North Carolina's highest unemployment rate. In the March report, four other counties have more people out of work, including Graham, Rutherford and Caldwell Counties in the western part of the state. As a group, Western North Carolina counties have seen their rates rise more dramatically during this recession, largely the result of lost manufacturing jobs.

Here's the full report from the NC Employment Security Commission:

East Carolina University should put out seasonally adjusted rates later can find them here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Studying Census Participation

In just about every form of media imaginable--from the web to the roadside and everything in between--the word is out: fill out your Census form and mail it back. With millions of dollars in federal funding for states and municipalities determined by Census data, participation is critical. It's also cost-effective. According to the US Census Bureau, taxpayers could save $1.5 billion if everyone mailed back their forms and door-to-door methods weren't needed.

As of today, North Carolina's Census participation rate stands at 62 percent, two points above the current national average of 60 percent. 59 percent of Edgecombe County's residents have mailed back their forms so far, the US Census Bureau says. In 2000, North Carolinians fell below the national average in Census , but only by one point: 66 percent to the national 67 percent figure.

While the people of Edgecombe County have done relatively well in returning their Census forms so far, a recent study still found some potential problems in Edgecombe. The study by the Institute for Southern Studies ranked Edgecombe County among the most likely North Carolina Counties to be under-counted in the Census. Out of 100 counties (100 being least likely for an undercount), Edgecombe ranks 3rd.

The study took 10 factors into account to determine the rankings:
  • Current unemployment rate
  • One-year unemployment growth
  • 2006-2010 layoffs
  • 2005-2010 foreclosures
  • One-year rolling foreclosure increase
  • Current poverty rate
  • Percent African-American
  • Percent Hispanic/Latino
  • 2000 Census mail response rate
  • 2000 Census undercount
Read the full report

The study found Lee County, which has a lower unemployment rate than Edgecombe, to be the county most at-risk for an under count; Yadkin County the least-risky.

Even though Edgecombe County has several potential risk factors like high unemployment and a large population living below the poverty line, Census 2010 could very well be more successful than the count a decade ago. It's only the first week in April, but Edgecombe has already surpassed its overall mail-in participation from the 2000 Census.

57 percent of the county's people mailed back their forms ten years ago; already this year, with a few weeks to go, Edgecombe is up to 59 percent participation. In a place with a strained social service system, where every dollar counts, the Census trend so far this year is welcome news.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Good Count

2010 Census forms begin making their way to mailboxes across the nation this week and the people-counting efforts are getting extra attention in Edgecombe County. 10 years ago, when Census workers were doing their tallies for the 2000 Census, much of the county was still in disarray. Flooding from Hurricane Floyd put 40 percent of Edgecombe under water and forced thousands of people from their homes and into temporary housing only about 5 months before the Census began.

As a result, Edgecombe County leaders say many residents were missed in the 2000 count. In a county that's been suffering through high unemployment and other economic malaise for more than 15 years, missing parts of the population in the Census--and the millions of federal dollars that could cost--is a major thing.

This time around, county officials are going all-out to make sure everyone in Edgecombe is counted. In reminding citizens to fill out their Census questionnaires, county leaders are also letting them know about the millions of dollars at stake if Edgecombe County is under-represented. Census workers are also involved, meeting with church groups and other local organizations to get the message coming in from many different directions. Edgecombe's official population has been somewhat unclear to many of the people who live there--hopefully the 2010 Census will remove the confusion.

The Regional Census office for eastern North Carolina is in Rocky Mount and so far applications from temporary employees have been brisk. "We have gotten a good response in Edgecombe and Nash counties," said Lindberg White, Jr., the Manager of the Rocky Mount Census office. Edgecombe has one of North Carolina's highest unemployment rates, but White doesn't believe that's the only reason so many people have been interested in the part-time Census work. He says it's most difficult to find qualified applicants in counties that are more rural and sparsely-populated than Edgecombe.

The Rocky Mount office oversees people-counting efforts in 17 eastern North Carolina counties. White says it's hard to put an exact figure on the number of people that will ultimately be hired to help with the Census because of turn-over and other things, but he expects it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1800 workers. White says he won't know exactly how many people he'll need until the Census questionnaires start coming back: the more residents who mail in the Census form, the fewer workers needed to go door-to-door.

Those who are hired can expect to earn between $11 and $14 an hour and could potentially have Census-related work through the fall.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Edgecombe Near the Bottom in Health Report

Although it's economic struggles that usually get the most attention in Edgecombe County, the population is also facing a health crisis. A new report from the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides additional evidence of the state-of-affairs in a nationwide check-up of Americans broken down on a county-by-county level. Of North Carolina's 100 counties, Edgecombe ranks 94th in overall Health Outcomes.

According to the report, the way the people of Edgecombe County approach healthy lifestyles are having a strong influence on the overall score. In the category of "Health Behaviors," a measure that includes things like obesity and adult smoking rates, Edgecombe ranks 100th--the worst in North Carolina. The report found 38% of Edgecombe's people are obese (NC Average is 29%) and 30% of adults smoke (NC Average is 23%).

Read Edgecombe's full health report card

As you might expect, the issue is more than casually connected to matters of economics. Of the bottom 10 counties in the report, only Martin County (at 19.8%) has a poverty level below 20 percent. Some of the bottom 10 counties have more than 25 percent of their people living below the poverty line, according to data from the US Census Bureau. Not surprisingly, the healthiest counties are the most economically successful ones, places like Wake, Mecklenburg and New Hanover Counties.

As Edgecombe County continues its efforts to recruit new industries, it's poor showing in health surveys could be a substantial hindrance. "Many corporations look at the obesity rate in the community as one of their crucial factors in deciding where to locate there," says Dr. Jim Johnson, of the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at UNC-Chapel Hill. "They use the incidences of obesity as a surrogate measure for health care costs and productivity."

Poor health and high unemployment have become unfortunate ways of life in Edgecombe County. As this research from the University of Wisconsin proves, they are problems that are becoming increasingly connected and could loom largely in Edgecombe's long-term prosperity.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mixed Signals

The middle part of the week brought major economic news that could benefit Edgecombe County--but the announcement didn't take place there.

On Tuesday, Oregon-based Reser's Fine Foods announced it would expand its operations in neighboring Halifax County, creating 500 jobs in the process. The company produces prepared salads, dips, side dishes, Mexican foods and specialty products under a variety of brand names.

Since the facility in Halifax is an hour or less from most Edgecombe County locales, the jobs are welcome news to the work force in Edgecombe. Many of the county's residents leave Edgecombe everyday for work in other communities--some of them further away than Halifax County.

In November, the most recent month for which data are available, Halifax County had an unemployment rate of 13.6%, 3 percent lower than Edgecombe's 16.6%, the highest in North Carolina. Edgecombe County has about 1000 more people looking for work than Halifax County does, according to NC Employment Security Commission statistics.

State and federal leaders also announced this week that Edgecombe County is among 37 North Carolina counties to receive $28 billion in economic stimulus funds to expand broadband internet access.

The promises of hundreds of new jobs and better internet access coming to the region were great news in the middle of the week, but state officials released data Friday that diluted some of that
good cheer. North Carolina's statewide unemployment rate in December increased to 11.2%, up from 10.8% in November. The 11.2% figure is the highest of the recession, topping June's mark of 11.1%. The jobless rate had been below 11% since then.

The state releases rates for individual counties on Friday, 1/29.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Edgecombe's Poverty High, but not Highest

Edgecombe County--even in good economic times--often has one of the two highest unemployment rates in North Carolina (Scotland County is the other). But in a recent report on poverty in North Carolina released by the NC Justice Center, 11 counties had poverty rates higher than Edgecombe's.

Neighboring Pitt County, which is home to several economic engines that have still been turning in this recession--East Carolina University and Pitt County Memorial Hospital among others--had an unemployment rate of 10.4 percent in September. By comparison, Edgecombe's rate stood at about 16 percent that month. But the levels of poverty in the two communities are much closer: 22.9 % of Edgecombe's people live below the poverty level, less than a percentage point above Pitt's 22.2%.

Read more of the report from the NC Justice Center