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Forbes names Rocky Mount one of most impoverished U.S. cities

Posted October 21, 2009

The city of Rocky Mount is making national news, and it's not welcoming. Forbes magazine has ranked the city among America's 10 most-impoverished cities.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey, the magazine looked at the per capita income for the region, the percentage of people under age 65 receiving public health care and the unemployment rate.

Top 10 list not good for Rocky Mount Top 10 list not good for Rocky Mount

Rocky Mount had a per capita annual income of $22,662, and income of the bottom one-fifth of residents was $7,840. About 7.8 percent of people earned below 50 percent of the poverty line, and 17 percent received food stamps.

More than 28,000 people received public health care, and the unemployment was 8.7 percent. Since the survey was taken, the unemployment rate has risen to 13.8 percent.

Mayor David Combs said Wednesday that there is no denying that the city has had its economic struggles, but he questions whether the statistics are a fair assessment of the city.

"I just think there is more here that we have to offer than a story like this can tell," he said.

Rocky Mount, he said, has made great strides since the decline in textile and tobacco jobs felt throughout most eastern counties.

There are also ongoing efforts to recruit new industry and new businesses to the city, he said, including a plant for The Cheesecake Factory that is expected to create about 500 jobs by 2012.

"We have had some success over the years," he said.

Combs also points to a Forbes article earlier year that placed the city at 119 on a list of the top 200 Best Small Places for Business and Careers.

"When you do studies like this, they are kind of snapshots in time, and if you did that list again today, whether we'd be on it or not would be questionable with all the unemployment that's happened in other parts of the country," Combs said.

The data, he also said, also takes into account areas outside the city, such as some of the rural areas in Nash and Edgecombe counties, which have some of the highest unemployment numbers in the state.

City Councilman Reuben Blackwell IV, who is also an activist, notes positive aspects to the city, such as an increase in community college students and more health care and technology jobs.

Still, he said, the Forbes list highlights important issues.

"To me, the article reflects what we're dealing with every day in a great percentage of our community, but it doesn't holistically define who we are," he said.

"We can't pretend that the numbers aren't real," he added. "We can't pretend that the realities that exist don't exist. We just have to now mobilize ourselves, create a plan and work the plan together as a region."

Other cities on the list include McAllen, Texas; Brownsville, Texas; Pine Bluff, Ark.; Albany, Ga.;
Yuma, Ariz;.Saginaw, Mich.; Macon, Ga.; Flint, Mich.; and El Centro, Calif.

McAllen, Texas, was the most impoverished, with the lowest incomes and most food stamp recipients of any in the United States. With a population of 721,169, its per capita annual income is $13,742, with the bottom one-fifth of the population earning about $5,975 a year.


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  • FonziBeWithYou Oct 23, 2009

    Just pick a day of the week - any day - and take a stroll through downtown Rocky Mount (pack your gun first). Then I want you to tell me how many capable people you see lounging around on their front porches, smoking cigarettes (or something else) and guzzling a 40 in the middle of the day. That, my friend, is why RMT is impoverished. Because an overwhelming number of people living in RMT would rather sit on their tail and live off the government than get up, get a real job, and contribute to their own well-being and to the community surrounding them. How do I know this? I live in RMT and get to see these lazy, good-for-nothing people every single day. I also watch a chunk of each of my paychecks disappear, all to enable these folks to continue their lives of leisure, while I work my butt off and STRUGGLE to pay my bills! Meanwhile, RMT city leaders want to "revitalize" downtown. FOR WHAT?!?!?

  • NCPACKER Oct 22, 2009

    When did Rocky Mount become a city?

  • 1carpe Oct 22, 2009

    Most likely means nothing, but real quick research of the Forbes list show a majority of these cities are run by Democrats. What I can't find is for how many years. I say it most likely doesn't mean anything because as we all know....it is all Bush's fault.

  • manofjustice Oct 22, 2009

    I stopped in Rocky Mount once about 20 years ago and I think Rocky Mount is a beautiful city. The people there are so friendly and beautiful. The trees align the streets so wonderfully. The sun shines on its downtown majestically. I love Rocky Mount. It is one of the greatest cities I have ever seened in my life. Everything is so beautiful. I need a little bit more Tequila this morning. Just lovely.

  • westoflyra Oct 22, 2009

    "Most impovershed towns appear to be in the south but the big northern cities get the $'s fro BO. Just like the 1860's almost. RISE UP! CAST OFF THE SHACKLES! LOL"

    I am a native of Rocky Mount and it certainly is a hole, no doubt, but I'd rather live there than the impoverished towns I've seen in the north such as Everett, Chelsea, Lowell, Revere - all towns in eastern Massachusetts outside of Boston.

    While many transplants have aided in our state's economy, which, historically, has rebounded quickly long before the transplants moved here, the quality of life in the south is so much better than in the north where taxes are higher, the air is dirtier, overcrowded, etc...And that is why folks have come down to our state in record numbers.

    All the education in the world doesn't necessarily make a place better to live. I speak from experience from having lived in the north for 10 years.

  • twedwards Oct 21, 2009

    pinball wizard--i do not know how well a east-west rocky mount would work. but, you are 100% right about the wasted time arguing over the statue of mlk.we loss a lot of companys in the last 10 years!!they have been more concerned over that statue then bring in new buiness.tarboro and wilson seem to be doing ok.

  • FlyByNight Oct 21, 2009

    "McAllen, Texas, was the most impoverished, with the lowest incomes and most food stamp recipients of any in the United States."

    (Demographics-McAllen, Texas)
    The racial makeup of the city was 78.46% White, 0.61% African American, 0.40% Native American, 4.93% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 15.85% from other races, and 2.71% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 77.28% of the population.

  • rob2lw2 Oct 21, 2009

    i live here worked 32 yrs for furniture co., have not been able to find a job for 13 months and every application i fill out it ask are you recieving government help. Can't get it because i have worked and managed to have something to show for it. Rocky Mount needs new leaders (cause the ones we have want to cencor what we are told) and lower utility bills then maybe business would stay or come to rocky mount. Wish i didn't have so much invested here myself crime,drugs and corrupt city officals is all rocky mount has to offer.

  • Just the facts mam Oct 21, 2009

    I have never been to Rocky Mount, but there sure does seem to be a lot of violent crime there.

  • jgilchr Oct 21, 2009

    North Carolina is alot better off then many southern states because of RTP and the biomed industry as well as UNC / Duke Healthcare etc. Those who complain about the transplants it is many of them who came to work in these fields. As for Rocky Mount and other impoverished areas off the I-40 and I-85 strip I would agree it stems from the poor education system and lack of opportunity to begin with. Poor education systems walk hand in hand with poverty in the south as a whole.