LUMBERTON, N.C. — Take a drive through Lumberton's industrial areas and the problem is clear -- factory after factory has been shut down and abandoned.
"Over the past seven or eight years, we've lost more than 9,000 jobs," said Robeson County Manager Ken Windley. "It's devastating."
More than one-third of the households in Robeson County live on less than $15,000 a year. The county has the third-highest poverty level in the country for a county its size. Only Apache County, Ariz., and McKinley County, N.M., have higher levels, said recent federal studies.
On top of the jobs lost in recent years, county leaders said 45 percent of working-class people in the county have no high school education. That makes finding a better job almost impossible for most unemployed residents.
"Educational opportunities weren't needed when factory work was available," said Windley. "But now it is needed, and our people have got to take advantage of that."
Members of the Lumbee Tribe have long fought their own battles with poverty. And since they account for nearly half of the population, what helps the Lumbees would help the county too -- like getting federal recognition and the services that come with it.
"When we look at the benefits, in terms of resources to help the families to have livable houses and affordable houses, access to higher education, the impact would be enormous," said Lumbee Tribe Member Donna Chavis.
But many residents of the county aren't waiting for that. Community members have launched numerous programs aimed at finding a cure. They said they've learned the hard way that they can't rely on big business anymore.
Robeson County leaders said getting the government to support small businesses would be the biggest help in their fight against poverty. They're also launching numerous programs at the local level, like co-ops for residents to share and trade services.