Troy Williams: Poverty in Cumberland, U.S. can be a tough cycle

Troy Williams
Troy Williams

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Cumberland County’s poverty rate hovers around 19%, slightly higher than the state and national average. A lot of Americans are struggling. Two-thirds of U.S. families are having difficulty making ends meet.

The number of children living in poverty in America is estimated to be nearly 13 million. Inflation coupled with COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the poor in America. It should be no surprise that there has been a recent increase in the number of Cumberland County residents receiving public assistance.

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There are multiple types of poverty. Situational poverty is widespread, and many families experienced this during the pandemic, especially those working in the service industry. Fortunately, most individuals experiencing economic instability caused by a job loss, a divorce or a health crisis can bounce back and get on their feet.

Generational poverty is being part of a family that has lived in poverty for more than two generations. Generational poverty is a tough cycle to escape. Poverty in urban and rural communities differs as well.

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For example, I grew up in rural poverty during segregation. I have lived in poverty, but I never experienced hunger. My living conditions were horrible, but we generally ate well since we grew our fruits and vegetables and raised hogs for meat. Urban poverty poses a different challenge to access to a healthy diet, especially where there are food deserts in areas like Murchison Road.

In biblical scriptures, Jesus told his disciples: “The poor you will always have with you.” Some use this passage to justify withholding help, while others see the opposite. They see Jesus calling us to open our hands to those in need.

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Is poverty a condition of individual failure, folks unwilling to work or spend their money foolishly? Perhaps, this applies to some but probably not most. Most Americans are working harder than ever but are still struggling to make ends meet.

President Lyndon B. Johnson campaigned in 1964 to declare a “war on poverty.” He challenged our nation to build a “Great Society” that eliminated the troubles of the poor. Did Johnson’s bold agenda succeed?

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The main goal was the total elimination of poverty and racial injustice. A half-century later, the result is a 26% reduction in poverty rates since the Great Society was inaugurated. The cost: $22 trillion American taxpayer dollars. Some thought America cared too much creating a “welfare state.”

We are well-versed with the problems, but what about the solutions? Education is still a proven ladder out of poverty, especially for African Americans. Following the Civil War, formerly enslaved people established schools. Although slaves were prevented from learning to read, they still knew the value of literacy and knowledge.

Nothing has changed. Education is still the best way out of poverty because of its strong link to economic growth. Students with a college degree have fared better (even during the last recession) than those who dropped out of school before graduation or earned only a high school diploma. Arguably, the best way out of poverty is to move up in education.

Troy Williams is a member of The Fayetteville Observer Community Advisory Board. He is a legal analyst and criminal defense investigator. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Troy Williams: Poverty in Cumberland, U.S. can be a tough cycle