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.
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."
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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