Wataugans lag behind state income average



Article Published: Nov. 25, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

Watauga County's income lags behind those of many other North Carolina counties despite its relatively low unemployment rate, and the gap between the richest and poorest is wider here than across the state.

A study released this week by the N.C. Budget and Tax Center, an advocacy group for "social justice," compiled labor and Census data to measure changes in North Carolina income since 2006. The study says a working family in Watauga County with one adult and two children needs to earn, on average, a total of $38,668 annually to afford basic living expenses in the county.

That's a little more than twice the designated federal poverty level for a family of three.

Watauga's poverty rate of 21 percent is nearly 50 percent higher than the statewide average, and 41 percent of residents were classified as "low income" between 2006 and 2008.

However, though the county has lost jobs during the recession, it still fares better than the rest of the state, which saw unemployment rise to 11 percent last month. Watauga had an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent in August, up from 4.4 percent the year before and 2.9 percent in 2000.

Despite the employment figures, Wataugans make about three-fourths as much as other North Carolina residents, with a median household income of $35,000 and an average weekly wage of $576.

The richest 5 percent of Watauga County households had an average income that was 39.9 times greater than that of the poorest fifth of households and 6.9 times greater than that of the middle fifth of households between 2006 and 2008.

In 2008, the richest 5 percent of North Carolina households had an average income that was 25.6 times greater than that of the poorest fifth of households and six times greater than that of the middle fifth of households.

Though the figures weren't included in the report, 31 percent of county residents had no health insurance, based on 2005 Census data, while the number of people receiving food stamps or other nutrition assistance increased 40 percent from last year, to 2,730 people.

A working family in Watauga County with two adults and two children needs to earn, on average, a total of $43,674 annually to afford basic living expenses in the
county. The county's living income standard for this family requires them to earn a
combined hourly wage of $21, which is $6.50 more than the $14.50 per hour earned through working two minimum wage jobs.

Statewide, median household income has declined in the past decade when adjusted for inflation. Median household income in North Carolina was $46,549 in 2008; state median household income in 2000 was $47,241 when adjusted to 2008 dollars.

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