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The Daily Tar Heel

Charlotte's poorest residents segregated in schooling, housing and opportunity

Lower wages, segregated communities and inferior schools have contributed to the marginalization of black and Hispanic residents within North Carolina’s largest city, according to a report released by UNC School of Law faculty at the N.C. Poverty Research Fund.

“This is a problem in a lot of cities that are growing economically,” said study co-author Heather Hunt, a law school research associate. “There’s this ongoing question of, ‘Where does this growth go? Who’s experiencing the growth?’”

The N.C. Poverty Research Fund study found black and Hispanic residents are three times as likely to live below the poverty line than their white counterparts.

The study showed that Charlotte’s poverty rates, which have nearly doubled since 2000, are highest in neighborhoods with more minority residents. In 2014, 79 neighborhoods in Mecklenburg County had more than 20 percent of residents living in poverty, 70 of the neighborhoods had a non-white majority.

“(Charlotte) is this glittering metropolitan region ... and yet there’s still these pockets of poverty that all this wealth bypassed,” Hunt said.

Schools situated in the poorest neighborhoods of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, which have the most minority residents, were more likely to receive low marks from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, according to the study.

Dee O’Dell, co-chairperson of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, said he is troubled by the city’s segregation.

“It feels less and less like we are part of one community,” he said. “When you have that divide, it’s easy to be stuck in your own world and not have a bridge to the other side.”

A study conducted by the North Carolina Sociological Association said Charlotte-Mecklenburg students have been increasingly separated by race since 2002, when a federal court ruling halted busing policies designed to desegregate the district.

O’Dell said the common denominator of systemic poverty is race.

“Institutionalized racism is a huge issue,” he said.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said these divides cause tensions that were on display following the police shooting of Keith Scott last month.

“(The protests) are expressing not just a concern about police behavior, but also about the racial divides that still exist,” she said.

Scott was killed in one of the most economically distressed neighborhoods in North Carolina, said Tovi Martin, a spokesperson for the Mecklenberg County poverty relief organization Crisis Assistance Ministry.

A study by Harvard University and University of California-Berkeley economists ranked Charlotte last among America’s 50 largest cities in economic mobility — meaning many of the city’s poor residents remain in the same economic class as their parents.

“The barriers that come with poverty ... have been shown to create an almost toxic level of stress in children and adults alike,” Martin said. “Over time, that kind of stress breeds frustration and anger.”

Roberts said the city of Charlotte is working hard to identify areas in which they can help impoverished residents escape from cyclical poverty.

“These barriers are real,” she said. “They are harmful, they are damaging and they are leading to whole generations of minority families not being able to get out.”

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