Town struggles in county deemed too rich for aid

President Obama's three-day bus tour to promote his jobs bill is taking him through a region hit hard by the recession. In one county in North Carolina the percentage of people living below the poverty line has more than doubled.

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller went there and found that a growing class divide is delaying financial aid.

Daniel and Leanna Marley's chicken farm near Robbins, N.C. once earned $90,000 a year. Today, their hen-houses are empty.

The operation's value? "As it stands, with no birds, nothing," Daniel Marley said.

Skyrocketing feed prices forced the area's last poultry processing plant to close in August.

"We still have a payment on our farm loan," Leanna Marley said. "We have a home payment. We have a lot of debt right now and no way to get out of it."

The unemployment rate in Robbins is almost 16 percent. The poultry plant was the town's only major employer. The textile mills, which once employed close to 1,300 people, moved to Asia years ago.

"They left these people in the U.S., in Robbins, North Carolina without jobs," said Robbins Mayor Theron Bell.

Globalization cost the town jobs and now geography threatens its recovery. Robbins is just 17 miles away from Pinehurst, N.C. -- home to eight golf courses, the U.S. open and wealthy retirees.

"We are in one of the wealthiest counties," in the state, Bell said, "So even though we have a poverty level of 36 percent we can't get the help we need because we're in the top tier."

North Carolina uses a tier system to figure out how to help needy counties. Moore County -- home to both Robbins and Pinehurst -- is in the affluent tier three. Neighboring Montgomery County is in tier one, a poor county.

"We are more like Montgomery County because they're rural and have a lot of poverty but they cannot pull us out to help us," Bell said.

Robbins is ineligible for at least $750,000 this year in state aid to repair infrastructure and attract new businesses. New Census data could push Moore County out of the wealthy tier. But it will take more than a year for North Carolina to change aid formulas. That may be too late for the Marleys.

"We farmers feel lost we don't know what to do with ourselves we've been doing this for years and what do you do now you feel like there's no hope except for faith," Leanna said.

They hope the farm's small pottery shop will help pay some bills before their savings run out in a few weeks.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.