Minority Central

March 26, 2010
During these tough economic times, some entrepreneurs are still going ahead with a new business. Many of these ventures have the potential to make a positive contribution to their communities. We found one such example in Tarboro, N.C. When we arrived in the town this week, we thought we'd check in with the new owners of the Main Street Cafe. We didn't realize how new. At first glance, actually, we thought we were too late. Instead of a bustling coffee shop, we found paper-covered windows, which usually signal another business gone bust. But the lights were on, and a contractor came out the door, heading for his truck of tools and construction supplies. A closer look revealed "Coming Soon" scrawled on the door. This small business in a small "Minority Central" town had flipped again. The new owners, Addie and David Lewis, signed the papers just last Friday, and renovations are already under way so that "Addie's Main Street Cafe" can open April 12. "I want it to be like a gathering...
March 24, 2010
The headlines may be all about healthcare reform this week, but throughout the United States, the biggest story continues to be the sputtering economy. Poll after poll shows that the economy and unemployment are the top issue with voters. That’s for good reason: After more than two years of tough times, things simply don’t look as if they are improving on the ground. The March edition of Patchwork Nation’s Economic Hardship Index has a score of 33.5, which is exactly where it was in February. In some communities, the number has gotten a little better over the past month. In some, it’s gotten a little worse. But overall, this measure of key economic indicators is high and is unchanged – a testament to the lingering effects of the recession. Driving the trouble is unemployment, which rose in all 12 of Patchwork Nation’s community types. Another factor, the foreclosure crisis, continues in various degrees across the community types. The meaning? Despite any hard feelings about...
March 19, 2010
Earlier this week, the Federal Communications Commission released a national broadband plan, as mandated by the government's economic stimulus bill. The plan aims to give every interested American affordable, "robust broadband service" and to connect at least 100 million households to broadband speeds of 100 megabits per second by 2020. "The critical thing is that the costs of digital exclusion, the costs of not being on our broadband grid, are high and getting higher," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on the “PBS NewsHour.” Mr. Genachowski likened broadband to other now-essential services, such as telephone and electricity, which boost the economy and innovation. Rural areas, as well as low-income and older Americans, still lack access or are choosing not to use broadband, he added. Broadband access hard to map Data on broadband access in the United States isn't expected to be mapped until next year, although some organizations like Connected Nation have started mapping...
March 15, 2010
2010 Census forms begin making their way to mailboxes across the nation this week and the people-counting efforts are getting extra attention in Edgecombe County. 10 years ago, when Census workers were doing their tallies for the 2000 Census, much of the county was still in disarray. Flooding from Hurricane Floyd put 40 percent of Edgecombe under water and forced thousands of people from their homes and into temporary housing only about 5 months before the Census began.As a result, Edgecombe County leaders say many residents were missed in the 2000 count. In a county that's been suffering through high unemployment and other economic malaise for more than 15 years, missing parts of the population in the Census--and the millions of federal dollars that could cost--is a major thing.This time around, county officials are going all-out to make sure everyone in Edgecombe is counted. In reminding citizens to fill out their Census questionnaires, county leaders are also letting them know...
March 12, 2010
On March 2, Gov. Rick Perry won the Republican gubernatorial primary in Texas by a comfortable 21-point margin. He earned 51.1 percent of the vote, while US Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison received 30.3 percent and newcomer Debra Medina 18.6 percent. Many postmortems since then have made it sound like this outcome was obvious – that it was clear from the start that Governor Perry would win. But just a year ago, Perry was running behind Senator Hutchison in trial-heat polls by 25 points. A swing of 46 points – from 25 points down to 21 points up – is just not that common in elections. What happened? After all, Hutchison brought to the table her considerable popularity, the experience of four statewide victories in Senate races, and a war chest in excess of $20 million. In Perry's favor Perry was able to engineer this win partly because the Texas economy had been buoyant (although holes started to appear this year). While California, New York, and other large states were forced to make...
March 10, 2010
It’s been a little more than a year since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus package, into law. The big question come the midterm elections this fall: Did it work? That may not be easy to answer. The Obama administration’s best answer is likely to be that job losses could have been worse. But looking at the $787 billion stimulus legislation through the Patchwork Nation prism shows some clear winners and losers. All 12 community types in Patchwork Nation have seen federal money stream their way, but there are sizable disparities. One community type has received federal awards in the $500-per-person range, while others have seen twice that, according a Patchwork Nation analysis of stimulus numbers that were compiled by ProPublica, a nonprofit public-interest news organization. This analysis includes money that the federal government awarded through January of this year – some $283 billion. Winners and losers? The impact of the...
February 26, 2010
Last week I visited four small, liberal arts colleges in the northeast, which I have applied to for next year. These schools, Bryn Mawr, Vassar, Mt. Holyoke and Smith, are my dream schools because of their small class sizes and great politics and art history courses. But being from a middle class family, cost is a major factor in where I will be able to go, just as it is for most other high school students in America. If I don’t get merit scholarships at my dream schools, or enough need-based financial aid to attend them, I know Louisiana State University can provide me with a fine education. (After all, my dad is a professor there – though professors' kids do not get a free ride). But with our current economic status, state universities are becoming less and less desirable to students, especially those like me living in Louisiana.In 2009, Louisiana State University was pleased to announce that it was ranked for the first time in the U.S. News and World Reports...
February 24, 2010
On Tuesday, the Conference Board in New York released its latest consumer-confidence number. It was 46 – down almost 11 points from the previous month. That’s a far cry from a score of 90, which would mean a stable economy, or 100, which would show growth. If you’re wondering why the American consumer seems so glum, look no further than Patchwork Nation’s Economic Hardship Index – a measure of key indicators including foreclosures, unemployment, and gasoline prices. It’s rough out there. This month, the hardship scores are up in each and every one of Patchwork Nation’s 12 community types – and that comes after a big jump in scores last month. Gasoline prices are up in every community type, and more important, so is unemployment. Add in the seemingly intractable housing problems discussed in this blog Monday, and you have a prescription for tightfisted consumers. (Wednesday's record-low numbers for housing starts made things look only gloomier.) The average hardship score for...
February 22, 2010
Although it's economic struggles that usually get the most attention in Edgecombe County, the population is also facing a health crisis. A new report from the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides additional evidence of the state-of-affairs in a nationwide check-up of Americans broken down on a county-by-county level. Of North Carolina's 100 counties, Edgecombe ranks 94th in overall Health Outcomes.According to the report, the way the people of Edgecombe County approach healthy lifestyles are having a strong influence on the overall score. In the category of "Health Behaviors," a measure that includes things like obesity and adult smoking rates, Edgecombe ranks 100th--the worst in North Carolina. The report found 38% of Edgecombe's people are obese (NC Average is 29%) and 30% of adults smoke (NC Average is 23%).Read Edgecombe's full health report card:As you might expect, the issue is more than casually connected to matters of economics. Of the...
February 22, 2010
All recessions eventually come to an end. But right now, the US economy isn’t in the best shape. And sitting out there, like a big warning sign, is the housing market. When economies turn around, construction is often an engine of recovery. People emerge from tough times, start feeling confident again, and think about building and buying new homes. A look across Patchwork Nation, however, shows large hurdles in front of that typical recovery trend. Foreclosure rates remain a big problem. While they have improved in some of our community types over the past six months, they have worsened in others. Three key community types – the suburban “Monied ’Burbs,” the largely exurban “Boom Towns,” and the big-city “Industrial Metropolis” – are among the places faring the worst. Although these community types have seen their foreclosure rates fall in the past six months, the decreases haven’t amounted to much. Other community types, meanwhile, have seen upticks in their foreclosure rates...