Local News

Wake's Top Priority for 2008: Fighting Poverty

Posted February 4, 2008 5:47 p.m. EST
Updated February 5, 2008 12:35 p.m. EST

— Sounding more like presidential candidates than county officials, the Wake County Board of Commissioners set fighting poverty as its top goal for the coming year.

Poverty topped dealing with the drought, transportation strategies and school finance and construction among the board's annual priorities, which were identified during a retreat on Friday.

"Our county is a wonderful place to live, and it's our job to continue to plan for the future and work together collaboratively for the benefit of our countywide community," board Chairman Joe Bryan said in a statement.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, about 74,000 Wake County residents live in poverty – about 9 percent of the county's population.

That ranks as the fifth-lowest poverty rate in North Carolina and the lowest in the Triangle region. By comparison, Durham County's poverty rate is about 14 percent and Cumberland County's is at 18 percent.

Still, Wake County officials said they want to move more residents to middle-class existence. They have crafted a plan dubbed "Middle Class Express" – the campaign bus tours of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also use that moniker – to keep people out of poverty as the county grows.

The eight-track program includes traditional economic development actions like finding employment, offering financial-literacy lessons, improving education and offering skills training. It also includes concepts such as adjusting people's mindsets, adopting healthy lifestyles and building families and community.

County spokesman Wil Glenn explained that some of the programs unrelated to employment are necessary by noting that people need more than a job to attain middle-class status.

The program is based on one the county's human services director, Ramon Rojano, implemented in Hartford, Conn., where he oversaw health and human services for 15 years before coming to Raleigh last year.

Anne Burke of Urban Ministries of Wake County, which helps low-income residents, applauded the county's move.

"There's plenty of room for improvement for all of us in this community," Burke said. "The more we can provide better services to the people who move here (and) who live here, the more productive they'll be in turn and give back to the community."