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Salisbury listed as No. 5 city with soaring poverty

SALISBURY — Salisbury appears on a list of U.S. cities with “soaring poverty” posted on Yahoo.com this week.

The article, originally posted Dec. 5 by 24/7 Wall St. and reposted Monday by Yahoo Homes, lists Salisbury as the no. 5 city where poverty increased during the recession.

But a research specialist at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute said the statistics used to compile the list may be deceiving.

All 10 cities listed as poverty-stricken have populations between 25,000 and 45,000. Salisbury’s population is 33,596.

The relatively small size of the 10 cities named to the list probably helped them, to a certain extent “rise to the top” in the study, said Laura Simmons, a social research specialist with the Urban Institute.

“Demographic changes tend to be more visible in smaller cities than large ones, especially over a short period of time,” Simmons said. “In other words, it doesn’t take as many additional people in poverty to alter the poverty rate  in Salisbury as it does in Charlotte.

Changes in the economy, like the loss of a major employer, have a bigger impact on a small city than a large one, Simmons said. That affects the poverty numbers as well, she said.

According to the online article, Salisbury experienced a 12.4 percent increase in poverty from 2007-2009 to 2010-2012.

Salisbury’s poverty rate in 2010-2012 was 28.4 percent and median household income was $33,083, according to the article, which used poverty figures, home values, income and employment by industry from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and six years of annual average unemployment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From 2007 to 2009, Salisbury’s poverty rate of 16 percent was about 3 percent higher than the national rate. Between 2010 and 2012, the city’s poverty rate approached 30 percent.

“Salisbury has traditionally relied heavily on the manufacturing sector, particularly textiles and fabrics,” the article said. “In recent decades, however, manufacturing activity has declined significantly and continues to do so. Between 2010 and 2012, manufacturing jobs in Salisbury — as a percent of the workforce — shrank from 15.5 percent to 8.3 percent.”

The years used in the study — 2010 to 2012 — were particularly difficult for Salisbury and Rowan County, said Robert Van Geons, executive director for RowanWorks Economic Development Commission.

The number of people employed in Rowan hit a low in 2010, with 60,586 residents working, Van Geons said. Employment did not begin to substantially rebound until late 2011, reaching 65,700 in September 2013.

“A snapshot of 2010-2013 would likely present a very different picture,” said Van Geons, adding that while rebounding, employment still has not reached pre-recession levels.

As Rowan comes out of the recession, Van Geons said people should remember that job-generating companies such as Gildan, Henkel, and Fresh House Foods all have a startup period before hiring new workers. Gildan has announced plans to create about 400 jobs in Rowan in two new plants.

Van Geons also said the Census numbers do not match the state’s Employment Security Commission numbers. While the American Community Survey three-year figure shows 14.5 percent unemployment in Salisbury, the city’s unemployment rate, even in the heart of the recession, never exceeded 12.4 percent according to the Employment Security Commission, Van Geons said. 

Salisbury City Manager Doug Paris agreed that 2010-2012 “had a devastating effect” on Salisbury’s middle class, which depended on the textile and manufacturing industries.

“As the economic recovery continues — including landing firms like Gildan that fit squarely in our labor force’s niche, growing several firms that are already located here and diversifying our job base with technology firms like Integro — this trend will reverse,” Paris said.

In response to the downturn, Salisbury City Council two years ago asked economic development agencies — the EDC, Downtown Salisbury Inc. and the tourism authority — to work together to help recruit more jobs.

The city has doubled its fund balance and received two credit rating increases this year, Paris said.

“Salisbury is now a AA city on strong financial footing,” he said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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