This is part two of a two part series on the 2016 State of our City Report. This part covers infrastructure improvement and economic development. You can read Part 1 HERE.
Income Disparity and Poverty
Tommy Hickman, Vice Chair of the Winston-Salem Foundation, spoke next and provided a stark look at numbers related to income disparity and poverty in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County. He thanked Forsyth Futures for gathering the data he used in his presentation. Mr. Hickman first turned to poverty – and what he had to say was at times disheartening. 20% of the residents in Forsyth County live in poverty. 29% of those under the age of 18 live in poverty. The poverty has disproportionately affected the black and Latino communities. 28% percent of the the black population in Forsyth County are living in poverty, while 47% of the Latino population are living in poverty and 11% of the white population is living in poverty.
According to statistics, location- where you live- in Forsyth County also determines your chances of living in poverty. There are “concentrations of poverty” in our city that tend to also be heavily populated by minorities, while the generally “white” areas have better outcomes and mobility. What are considered “Poverty Census Tracts” are areas where 40% of the population lives at or below national poverty levels. 14% of our entire population lives in these areas. 17% of our children under the age of 17 live in these areas. 2% of those in High Poverty Census Tracts are white, 22% are African American and 60% are Latino.
Homelessness remains an issue, but still only hovers at about 2.7 homeless for every 10,000 residents.
According to Mr. Hickman the median household income in Forsyth County is $45,220. 20% of our households make an average income of $19,067 or less. 40% of households make $36,646 or less. 60% of households are getting by with $57,051 or less and 95% of our population in Forsyth County makes $166,984 or less a year.
Mr. Hickman reported that the low infant birth-weight still hovers around 9.5%, or one in 10 births. That would be babies being born below five pounds, eight ounces or less. 14% or 1 in 7 African American children were born with low birth weight, 6% of Latino babies and 8% of white children. This is a metric often looked at as an indicator of overall women’s health in a given community. It can indicate access to medical care, socioeconomic conditions, and public health practices.
The suicide rate was approximately 11.5 per 100,000 residents which is not a big change from previous years.
Another quality of life indicator is the level of education for citizens over the age of 25. There is a direct connection between education and the chances you’ll be living in poverty. A more educated populace is a more prosperous populace. 13% of our population has less than a high school degree. The poverty level for those folks is 34%. Another 26% of our population has a high school degree or its equivalent, and 18% of those live in poverty. 21% of our population has some college, but no degree, and 15% of those folks live in poverty. 8% of our population has an associate’s degree and just 8% of them live in poverty. 20% of the population has a bachelor’s degree, and only 5% of those individuals live in poverty. 11% of our population has a professional or graduate degree, and 3% of them live in poverty.
Arts & Innovation
The next up was President of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, Jim Sparrow. Mr. Sparrow informed the audience about the major art initiatives that are underway to improve the quality of life here in Winston-Salem and to make us a more attractive location for business. For projects designed to further Winston-Salem’s aesthetic realization of the Arts & Innovation ethos, Mr. Sparrow highlighted the following initiatives:
For public Art:
- Commission on Public Art has been appointed in 2016
- Creative Corridors- Vargrave scheduled to be completed in 2016 and plans are moving forward with creating a land bridge joining Winston and Old Salem.
- Highly Visible private investment- Artivity Park
For crafting a creative, welcoming vibe:
- Efforts to coordinate activity to be more than the sum of our parts.
- Public gatherings & community- multiple Festivals, SSO4, Salute, Gallery Hops, and the greater “Metro” parks series.
The Arts Council is working to be the engine behind creative entrepreneurship by expanding community engagement grants. There are efforts to use the Arts Innovation Lab as a tool to bring various disciplines together. The Kenan/UNCSA Arts Entrepreneurship Lab, the Center for Creative Economy/Flywheel, Swerve, South East Arts Accelerator, and Startup weekends are targeted at trying to bring some venture capital into local, arts based entrepreneurship.
Dr. Beverly Emory, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Superintendent, gave a presentation that should have been the most critical of the meeting, considering that the conclusions the other speakers were coming to is that everything begins with education. To understand what Dr. Emory told those assembled is to recognize that our schools are in serious trouble. While she stressed that the infrastructure is in place to make real changes, but often the money and budgets are not there to meet even the most basic needs. Slashing budget cuts out of Raleigh over the last few years seem to be at the root of many of the system’s woes. Our system is home to eleven failing schools and our Cook Elementary is the school with the worst outcomes in the state of North Carolina.
Dr. Emory stated goals by 2020 of having 90% of our third graders on reading level and be graduating 90% of the students. By 2018 the system hopes to close the achievement gaps between subgroups by 10 percentage points while increasing the overall performance of all subgroups.
Graduation rates over the year did increase from 83.5% to 85.4%. Among those schools where the graduation rate have risen are Glenn High School, Kennedy High School, Parkland High School, Reynolds High School, Walkertown High School, and Winston-Salem Prep Academy. There were decreases in graduation rates at Carver High School, Mt. Tabor High School, North Forsyth High School, Reagan High School, and West Forsyth High School. Most of these had not, however, fallen below targeted goals of 90%.
“Our reading outcomes were not good,” Emory stated. “We seem to be on a flat, ten-year trajectory.” They saw a decrease in third grade reading scores from 58% overall to 56%. The K-3 READ 3D Composites for all district elementary schools now show reading growth in all but two schools. This still does not bring us up to desired levels, or even really close. Elementary schools with a +10 increase in Read 3D scores included Bolton Elementary, Kimmel Farm Elementary, Konnoak Elementary, Mineral Springs Elementary, Old Town Elementary, Rural Hall Elementary, and Sedge Garden.
On closing the achievement gap, Dr. Emory said that they have not “lost ground, but we have not made huge improvements.” According to Dr. Emory the system has made significant progress in closing the achievement gaps in several areas including:
- 4th Grade reading
- 6th Grade reading & math
- 7th Grade Math I
- 8th Grade Math I
- 8th Grade Science
Dr. Emory then indicated that there is work underway in addressing these issues, including training teachers how to better teach to children living in poverty. She stated that the district culture is that, “Yes, there is poverty. No, poverty can’t be an excuse for us to not be doing the most we can in these classrooms to make sure that kids learn.”
Even with these innovative programs, Dr. Emory pointed out, without support and competitive salaries the school system will continue to struggle with hiring quality teachers. She stated that as of right now the district needed 73 school teachers (30 of these elementary teachers) for positions they cannot currently fill. She pointed out that these positions have traditionally been the easiest to fill. Singling out Cook Elementary, however, Dr. Emory said that they had 124 applicants for 25 positions in that very challenged school. She went on to highlight several expanding programs from summer school to hiring more reading interventionist for elementary schools that they hope will begin to address these inequities faster.
In closing Mayor Joines reiterated several points. Among them:
1. It will take time to absorb past losses and move on up indexes.
2. We should view these new initiatives as planting seeds for the future. For instance Whitaker Park has a potential for 10,000 jobs.
3. Our poverty rate is unacceptable.
4. We are in need of more entrepreneurial and innovation space. We have a shortage of already built industrial space.
“We’re an old manufacturing city,” Mayor Joines said pointing out that a recent Pew article clearly outlined the decline of America’s middle class. “Here in Winston-Salem we are having to replace those jobs and we are absorbing the losses of these jobs.” It’s going to take time to get over those losses, the Mayor stated, but we are heading in the right direction.