The official poverty rate showed a decline in North Carolina, but experts say that measure misses nuance.

By another measure, federal data shows that poverty shot up sharply in 2022, particularly among children. That metric, called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, includes a more complete picture of government benefits that people receive including child tax credits and food and housing assistance. The federal government dramatically expanded financial aid to families during the COVID-19 pandemic, which dropped poverty rates.

But in 2022, most of that aid dried up, and poverty rates snapped back to pre-pandemic trends.

This story was reported and written by WUNC

The official poverty rate, established in 1963, doesn't measure nearly all of that pandemic aid, so it did not decline sharply in 2020 and 2021, but also didn't shoot back up in 2022. The year-by-year Supplemental Poverty Measure is not available at the state level.

In 2022, there were 1.3 million North Carolinians — including 388,000 children — below the poverty level, which is $15,000 for an individual adult or $30,000 for a family of four. That's a rate of 12.8% for the state, down from 13.4% in 2021, according to the official poverty rate.

"Even though the poverty rate has come down over the long run, it's still really, really high relative to the countries that we like to be compared to," said Duke University professor Christina M. Gibson-Davis, who researches families and economic inequality.

She added that government aid during the pandemic shows that "we can actually move the needle in child poverty if we chose to do so," but that "there just isn't the political will at the moment to make those kinds of choices."

That political will does exist to reduce poverty in older adults. Social Security and Medicare dramatically lowered poverty rates for Americans aged 65 and older. But similar policies don't exist as broadly to help children. In North Carolina in 2022, there were 198,000 people aged 65 and older in poverty, slightly more than half the number of children in poverty.

In all, the state's child poverty rate was 17.2% in 2022, which amounts to a bit more than one in every six children.

"The new data show that there are still too many people living in poverty in North Carolina, including way too many children, and household incomes are stagnating," said Alexandra Sirota, executive director of the liberal leaning N.C. Budget & Tax Center. "It is not enough to hope that the economy will deliver better outcomes; policymakers can and must make the reduction of hardship for all people the top priority. That is the true measure of economic success."