The Candidates Respond: Why Are People Poor?

Nine candidates are running for the Orange County Board of Commissioners in the upcoming Democratic primary election on March 15.

  • At Large (1 seat): Andy Cagle, Matt Hughes, Mark Marcoplos
  • District 1 (2 seats): Jamezetta Bedford, Mark Dorosin, Gary Kahn, Penny Rich
  • District 2 (1 seat): Bonnie Hauser, Renee Price

OrangePolitics asked the candidates to answer five questions, and all provided responses. Today and on each of the next four Mondays, we will post the responses to one question. We begin today by posting the candidates' responses to the first question:

Why are people poor? What tools or programs is the county using and/or should the county use to address poverty?

The candidates cited a number of reasons for why people are poor, many naming lack of access to education and affordable housing. Some candidates acknowledged that institutional racism continues to play a role in poverty, though discussion of this issue was limited. A few candidates simply said the reasons were complex but did not provide specifics.

The candidates discussed a number of tools to address poverty. The Family Success Alliance—spearheaded in 2014 by Commissioner Mark Dorosin and UNC pediatrician Michael Steiner—was named by several candidates as a key tool. We would like to see the Family Success Alliance target more systemic causes of poverty, such as racial inequity in many of our local systems, such as policing, education, the judicial system, and employment, and none of the candidates discussed this. A few candidates cited living wage policies as a tool, noting that the county’s recent living wage policy moved all employees (full-time, part-time, and seasonal) to $12.76 per hour. This is an important step, and we would love to see the county move closer to what the Town of Carrboro is doing with a living wage floor closer to the cost of living in the county, which no candidate mentioned. A couple of candidates provided specific examples of other tools currently in use, such as the Social Justice Fund and the HOME Consortium (mentioned by Penny Rich) and new tools such as a "poverty ombudsman" (mentioned by Mark Marcoplos).

The candidates' responses are provided below.

+ + + + + + +


Andy Cagle

Why are people poor? Two words! Opportunities and alternatives, we must make sure that everyone has an opportunity to improve their lives. What we need is more available job training programs that are tailored to the skill set of our diverse population. We need to promote and attract light Industrials development along with other environmental friendly businesses that hire and train within the County. When the opportunity is present then the alternative is our own individual choice.

+ + +

Matt Hughes

This is a complex question because people are poor for a variety of reasons, however, no one chooses to be poor. Despite being one of the most affluent counties in the state, and one of the few counties to see incomes above the state average, nearly a fifth of our community lives in poverty. As someone who experienced childhood poverty first-hand, I understand the struggles that these members of our community face. However, it was because I lived in a great county that provided vital programs such as Head Start, that I was ultimately able to succeed.

As it relates to being an Orange County Commissioner, I see it as my job to make sure we are providing the opportunity for all of our resident to have access to education, from early childhood to adulthood. This includes providing the vocational education needed to learn new skills for jobs of the 21st century. By the same token, creating a variety of jobs, both those requiring advanced degrees and those targeting trades, is a must. Additionally, I believe that environment, family and social services, and elder care are essential to the wellbeing of all of Orange County residents. In short, addressing poverty in Orange County is going to require a multi-level approach, including job training, the addition of jobs, the addition of affordable housing, and expanding access to public transit.

The Family Success Alliance is a great tool that the county is currently using to address cradle to grave poverty in our community. By coordinating our various organizations focused on poverty, we can better serve those living in poverty and make a dent in this issue. KidScope, an organization for which I am proudly serving as a member of their Advisory Council, is a partner organization with the Family Success Alliance. KidScope provides great resources, like their Incredible Years Preschool Parenting Classes. These classes help parents understand their children’s academic, social, and emotional needs and learn positive, evidence-based parenting skills. The Family Success Alliance can help break the cycle of poverty for children like me. I would like to see this program begin to expand beyond the two current pilot zones in the county.

+ + +

Mark Marcoplos

People are poor for a variety of interconnected reasons, many of them the result of an economy that serves the ultra-wealthy at the expense of everyone else. One of the key justifications for allowing our economy to be dominated by corporate power is the shareholder value theory, which says that the sole purpose of publicly-held corporations is to maximize shareholder profit. (For more on this, see this article from 1971 by the hallowed economist Milton Friedman:

In pursuit of this over-arching goal, our economic system has a long and under-scrutinized history of exploiting minorities which continues to this day. These minorities are also often the most under-served by our educational system.

Orange County may seem to many of us like an oasis in this difficult economic landscape. Yet amidst the relative affluence of our citizenry, about 20% of our population lives in poverty. We have an ethical obligation to help these people.

The County is addressing poverty in a variety of ways that are helping, but we can do more. The Family Success Alliance is a relatively new project that is helping children in poverty create a better life in two communities in the County. The Orange County Schools have a free or reduced meal plan for those in need. The County has a Child care Subsidy program. The County Social Services Department administers several programs such as nutrition services, low-income health care, low income energy assistance, and more.

I would like to see the County create a “Poverty Ombudsman” who would:

  • Manage information on the various manifestations of poverty in Orange County.
  • Go into communities, schools, homeless camps, trailer parks, etc. and gather first-hand knowledge.
  • Coordinate efforts and facilitate resource sharing among the various anti-poverty efforts.
  • Identify gaps in our efforts to address poverty so that we can consider different approaches.

We must accelerate our affordable housing efforts. The County, Chapel Hill, & Carrboro jointly own a 169 acre parcel of land called the Greene tract which is between the Rogers Road community and Weaver dairy Extension. We should immediately begin making collaborative plans for some affordable housing projects there, since we could save on land costs which are a major source of affordable housing expense. Let’s create an experimental transitional, tiny home village for homeless people. We are likely to learn what many studies have concluded – that it is less expensive for a community to house a homeless person than to use tax money for the various social services that person requires without a home. Successful transitions to an independent life for homeless people begin with having a home.

We should get more bang-for-the-buck by building smaller homes and rentals with smaller units. Quick thought – instead of Orange High students building one 1700 sf affordable home per year, how about three 600 sf homes?

We need to ensure that our transportation systems are serving all communities. I was glad that our work to provide better bus service to the Rogers Rd. – Eubanks neighborhood resulted in improved service for them.

We should ensure that we have equal justice for all, from the streets to the courts. Reduced sentences for minor offenses will help keep families intact and minimize the interruption of young peoples’ development, as well as save taxpayer money.

+ + + + + + +


Jamezetta R. Bedford

There are numerous societal conditions which contribute to poverty, including institutional racism. Often these factors weave together making it difficult for an individual to escape their circumstances.  Inadequate education, employment, housing, medical care, social services and inequalities in our legal system are a few of the many factors that contribute to an individual’s inability to thrive.

Examples of these factors include:

Education:  Orange County has an alarming and persistent achievement gap between minority and white students that leads to limited earning opportunities in the future.  Underpaid and understaffed teachers in deteriorating buildings only exacerbate existing problems and make it difficult to reach the students most in need.  There is also a shortage of quality, affordable childcare to allow parents to work and children to be prepared for success in kindergarten.

Economic/Housing:  Although our unemployment rate in Orange County is relatively low, many of our citizens are “working poor” because they are not paid a living wage.  We have a shortage of affordable housing in our county, which restricts the ability for low income families to provide safe and stable homes.  In 2014, the hourly wage needed to afford a two bedroom apartment in Orange County was $16.21.  Our state hourly minimum wage is $7.25.  Taxation policies also contribute to poverty, including a decrease in unemployment benefits and length of benefit, and elimination of the state earned income credit and the pension deduction of $2,000-$4,000 for seniors.

Health and Social Services:  Limited access to medical care, disease prevention and prenatal care all contribute to poverty.  Mental illness, substance abuse, and disabilities also cause and sustain poverty, particularly in a political climate that will not expand medicaid.

The county is using several tools and partnerships to directly and indirectly address poverty.

  • The county sets a living wage for county employees.
  • The county Family Success Alliance partners with other organizations to tackle poverty “to improve children’s chances for educational and economic opportunities by serving a defined geographic area (a zone) and its children with a seamless ‘pipeline’ of evidence-based programs, service, and supports from cradle to career.” This provides a good example of the programming we need to develop and expand.
  • Indirectly the county approved school construction standards that allow for and fund pre-K classrooms to be included in new schools.
  • In October, 2015 the County made a great step by appointing its first Criminal Justice Resource Manager (for jail alternative programming such as PreTrial and Drug Court programs). On January 21, 2016 the Board approved the creation of a Criminal Case Assessment Specialist Position with clinical mental health skills to be paid for the remainder of this fiscal year.
  • We need to continue our public/private affordable housing partnerships with a goal towards measurable increases in affordable housing stock.

The county needs to expedite economic development in the Buckhorn Economic District for clean commercial projects to bring jobs with benefits at several levels for residents, especially those who do not have college degrees.  Companies can partner with Durham Tech-Orange Co to provide any technical training needed.

+ + +

Mark Dorosin

Poverty has myriad interrelated and inter-generational causes, including: 1) a lack of adequate educational opportunities, 2) a lack of decent paying jobs, 3) inadequate childcare, which especially burdens single parent households; 4) weakening of the safety net; 5) and the continuing impacts of race and gender discrimination.

While the County has worked to expand the scope and impact of its Departments of Social Services and Health, it has struggled to stem the onslaught of adverse actions by the state legislature.

The Family Success Alliance, a County led coalition of government agencies and direct service providers, has developed a wrap-around anti-poverty program specifically targeting children and families in concentrated low-wealth areas of the county.  The key to the model is two-fold and represents an approach we ought to take towards all social justice advocacy: first, it recognizes the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to community challenges (here bringing schools, health department, nonprofits, and community advocates together); second, it acknowledges that making immediate impacts, even incremental ones, is vital to build support and engagement around issues that can otherwise seem too broad, intractable, or abstract.  We need to expand the FSA and coordinate it with efforts to expand affordable housing and support local businesses and job opportunities.

All these efforts should be focused on addressing the growing income inequality in the County, which is among the highest in the state.

+ + +

Gary Kahn

People are poor for the following reasons, lack of a proper education , min  wage jobs, family planning not planed well( i.e Too many children etc.)The county should do a better job on getting the word out of what services they need, and try to locate and reach out to them.  

+ + +

Penny Rich

One in five North Carolina families earn too little to afford life’s essentials and move up the economic ladder. Orange County, which has one of the highest per capita incomes in our region, has 15.5% of people living below the poverty level (Chapel Hill 23.1%), with our children hit hard at 13.4%.  Many factors contribute to poverty: racial discrimination in education, jobs, housing and the criminal justice system are a factor, as well as government policies that disproportionately impact the poor. Some of these policies are implemented at the county level, such as urban and housing renewal policies that result in the poor paying greater portions of their income for substandard housing.

Orange County is tackling the problem of poverty head on. Some of the tools we are using are:

  1. Living Wage In 2015, Orange county commissioners approved a living wage of $12.76 for all county employees regardless of job status (full time, part time and seasonal employees). I led the collaboration with the non-profit “Orange County Living Wage Project” to recognize and certify Orange County as a Living Wage Employer, and encouraged our municipalities and schools to become certified as well. OCLWP encourages local business to pay the current living wage and has certified 53 businesses that do so ( It is important that Orange County lead by example, as the county government, both school systems, local governments and the university system are the largest employers in the county. I believe we can take this one step further by implementing a “fair housing wage” for all Orange County employees, which would provide the opportunity for county employees to live in Orange County.
  2. HOME Consortium This program allows local governments to partner when applying for funding for affordable housing. The 2015-2020 plan includes strategies to expand the supply of quality housing, increase housing choices, ensure equal opportunity, and enforce the “Orange County Civil Rights Ordinance” by investigating housing discrimination cases. While discussing the 2016 Bond Referendum, I insisted that we include funding for Affordable Housing. This was an uphill battle, but I did not let up and ultimately convinced my colleagues to include a 5 million dollar allocation. Although this is a small amount compared to the size of the problem, every dollar helps.
  3. Work First This program provides temporary assistance to help individuals move off welfare and into jobs. It provides employment services and support services along with some funding for families with children under the age of 18. The county works with local business and Durham Technical Community College to identify possible employment opportunities and assist applicants with the application process.
  4. Family Success Alliance This program is relatively new to our county that came out a long discussion about poverty in our 2013 commissioner retreat. The goal of the program is to improve a child’s chance for educational and economic success by applying evidence-based programs, services and a support systems from cradle to career, and to to end the school-to-prison pipeline. We have identified two “zones” in the county to pilot the program: Zone 4 in central Orange, and Zone 6 that covers downtown Chapel Hill to Hwy 54. A representative from each zone serves on the FSA council, taking an active decision-making role in both the education and community affairs of the children they represent. This empowers the children and families to exert some influence and control over their future.
  5. Social Justice Fund This fund was resurrected by the commissioners in 2013. During the recent recession this fund had been depleted, leaving no safety net for the most needy citizens in the county. This fund is used in extreme cases where no other funding is available. For example, funding has been used to supplement state funds when the state reduced funding for childcare reimbursements, to fund The Family Success Alliance, and to support DSS General Assistance for families in crisis and not able to pay utility bills. Although this will not end poverty, it provides a hand up to pull people out of crisis status.

+ + + + + + +


Bonnie Hauser

There are countless reasons that people are poor, ranging from un/under employment, generational poverty, mental illness, sudden loss of employment, healthcare crises and more. No one wants to be poor, or worse, to stay poor. The challenge is to find ways to reduce poverty through better job and skill development and to improve affordability through better access to housing, transportation and essential services.

I believe the county can do more by developing solutions for housing, transportation, and services that fit our communities. Every community is different, and solutions need to be adapted to fit. For example, good public transportation in Hillsborough looks different than Mebane or Chapel Hill. Ways that housing solutions can be adapted to our communities are discussed in Question 5.

Orange County and the many not-for-profits that serve our communities have wonderful tools to help, but resources but they are not always getting where they are needed. The Family Success Alliance, Project Engage Senior Outreach, and the community center initiative that’s building around Rogers Road, Efland, and Cedar Grove are helping. I’d like to foster similar initiaitves to provide tutors and to help feed low income children when school is out.

A greater challenge is finding ways to serve the families of low wage contract employees that work for UNC and UNC Healthcare. I’d be interested in working with UNC and the towns to find ways to provide housing, healthcare and other services to help make life more affordable for the contractors.

+ + +

Renee Price

Many people are born into poverty, and have become part of a seemingly unending cycle. Others people find themselves living in poverty, unexpectedly, years after a life of comfort and security.

People are of low-wealth for a variety of reasons—i.e., lack of education or skills to secure gainful employment; insufficient job opportunities paying a living wage; inability to be hired or promoted due to discrimination because of color, gender or age. Poverty, particularly persistent poverty, is indicative of the state of the local or regional economy, such as the demise of major businesses and employers. Poverty also is the consequence of a capitalistic society.

Orange County, despite its charm and amenities, is home to many households living in poverty. In recent years, the County has intensified its effort to increase economic development in both the rural and urban areas in order to: bring good paying jobs to unemployed and underemployed residents; and to diversify and expand the tax base so as to decrease the tax burden on homeowners and property owners who pass the costs to renters.

To assure a ready and successful workforce, we have forged a partnership with Durham Technical Community College. Our public schools also are teaching STEM and STEAM courses to prepare our young people for a competitive edge in the global economy. The Family Success Alliance teams are working with entire households to help them rise above systemic poverty—i.e., summer reading programs for pre-K youngsters and career assistance for adults

While Orange County government is unable to provide jobs to all individuals in needs, it can forge forward with a campaign to attract, sustain and retain a range of businesses and employers. The County can continue to promote the living wage movement by seeking to do business with companies that offer living wages to their employees.

The issue that remains to be resolved is the prejudice and discrimination that historically has put certain populations in poverty and that continues to keep certain people in an oppressed or dependent state.  Certainly, cities and counties thrive when families, neighborhoods and businesses are strong—socially, financially and politically.

+ + +


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.