Orange County is the healthiest county in the state for length of life, according to the report, and is in the top five for healthy behaviors and quality of life.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district was also found to be the top district in the state for average SAT score. But the report showed that the achievement gap within the district remains high.
“The achievement gap has been a persistent problem in our district since integration,” said Anna Richards, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.
While 88 percent of white students read on grade level by the end of 3rd grade in 2019, the same was only true for 57 percent of Black students and 42 percent of Hispanic students.
The report also found that 22 percent of Black households and 15 percent of Hispanic households in Orange County lack computer or internet access, compared to just 8 percent of white households.
Richards said schools moving online due to COVID-19 has further exacerbated the achievement gap.
“If a student is struggling or has been struggling with classroom instruction, distance learning is not going to improve that fact,” Richards said. “The gap was there before COVID, and it’s likely to be worse after COVID.”
Trends of racial inequity were found throughout other indicators, like poverty. In Orange County, 24 percent of Black children live in poverty compared to just 3 percent of white children.
COVID-19 deaths were seen as another indicator of inequity. Black residents in the county make up 12 percent of the population and 15 percent of COVID-19 cases, but 42 percent of COVID-related deaths, according to the report.
“Even in what we are, the wealthiest county, one of the most educated, the markers indicate that there are great disparities for African Americans in our community,” Richards said.
Randee Haven-O’Donnell, a Carrboro Town Council member, said the racial inequities presented in the report were the most important findings.
"I think when we saw what was happening with the numbers, there was an aspect of shock, but it’s not surprising when you think about it academically,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “We know that there’s institutional and systemic racism.”
Haven-O’Donnell said Carrboro plans to use engagement with businesses owned by people of color and the Town of Carrboro Comprehensive Plan, which uses community engagement to guide town growth, to address racial inequities and the disproportional impact of COVID-19. She also said the Town is discussing reparations.
“This is going to be a long conversation in Carrboro because we have to figure out what reparations look like and how that would express itself in Carrboro,” Haven-O’Donnell said.
Besides racial inequity, the report also looked at the economic impact COVID-19 is having on the community. Unemployment numbers had spiked to some of the highest levels in the county in over 10 years, and in May, retail sales were down 20 percent, according to the report.
“The data tell us that the fundamentals of our economy are strong, but we have important work to do to help COVID-impacted industries bounce back and to address the substantial racial inequities,” Nelson said in the release.
O’Donnell said recovery from the economic impacts of COVID-19 will have to require reimagining local business models.
“Where we’re looking for, you know, is really on a new frontier,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “And we have to be bold enough to think outside of the box for how we get there.”
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