Home / Opinion / Poverty in city a major problem, most say

Poverty in city a major problem, most say

More than 75 percent of respondents to this week’s Rochester Business Journal Daily Report Snap Poll say poverty in the city of Rochester is a major problem for the entire region.

A recent report based on the 2009-13 Census Bureau survey has highlighted the problem of poverty in the city of Rochester. The report, released by the Rochester Area Community Foundation and ACT Rochester, shows that the city’s poverty rate continues to rise, reaching 32.9 percent—or more than 66,300 people. The childhood poverty rate has risen to 50.1 percent, or more than 25,000 children.

While the 13 percent poverty rate in the nine-county region parallels the nation as a whole, the city of Rochester now has the highest rate of extreme poverty—defined as below 50 percent of the federal poverty level—of any comparably sized city nationwide, and the second-highest overall rate in this group of 18 cities. It is the fifth-poorest principal city among the 75 largest metro areas in this country.

A 2013 report by RACF and ACT noted several factors that possibly explain the level of concentrated poverty found in Rochester including racial segregation, population sprawl, limited housing opportunities for the poor, a precipitous loss of manufacturing employment, and a failure to evolve local government structures.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents said loss of manufacturing employment is to blame for the concentration of poverty in the city. Forty percent point to racial segregation, and 28 percent say limited housing opportunities for the poor are the reason.

On the heels of the new report’s release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of the Rochester Anti-Poverty Task Force, an interagency group that will work with local public, private and non-profit leaders “to combat poverty and fight inequality in the city.”

More than 700 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted Jan. 26 and 27.

Is poverty in the city of Rochester a problem for the entire region?
A major problem: 76%
Somewhat of a problem: 20%
Not much of a problem: 3%
Not a problem: 1%

In your view, what factors have played a significant role in the concentration of poverty in the city?
Loss of manufacturing employment: 58%
Racial segregation: 40%
Limited housing opportunities for the poor: 28%
Failure to evolve local government structures: 26%
Unmanaged population sprawl: 16%
Other: 29%

Which of the following government actions would you support to reduce poverty?
More investment in job training for people living in poverty: 60%
More investment in education of students from families living in poverty: 53%
More investment in affordable housing for people living in poverty: 31%
Greater income redistribution: 19%
Other: 23%

For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.


Thank you for featuring this critical issue and highlighting the work of the Community Foundation and its partners. The impact of spiraling poverty and declining education, which are closely linked, will affect our community’s overall economic sustainability, attractiveness to investors and workforce preparedness. We have great potential as a region. To realize it, we need to face this challenge with intelligence, innovation and tenacity. Let’s do it!
—Jennifer Leonard, Rochester Area Community Foundation

The RACF’s report on “Poverty in the Nine County Greater Rochester Area” is widely touted, but most people seem to have read only as far as Section 4. Sections 5 and 6 explain how and why poverty has become more entrenched in our area, and outlines some steps that we need to take to begin to redress it. We can stop bemoaning the problem, and spend more time and energy on envisioning and implementing comprehensive solutions, however unsettling this may be to the established order. Maintaining the status quo insures the perpetuation and further concentration of poverty.
—William Johnson Jr., Rochester

The greatest social program ever invented is a job that pays a living wage. We need to work across systems to effectively train and connect each person who wants to work with an employment opportunity with a future. Those jobs exist, here, today—mainly in the “middle skills” arena —and so do the people who need and want them.
—Todd Butler, president and CEO, Ad Council of Rochester

Unfortunately, the disparity in income, education and health care results experienced by Latinos and African Americans when compared with whites significantly impact the living conditions of these populations. We cannot forget that there is still discrimination that keeps minority populations out of opportunities open to whites. Investment in education, housing, health care, and job training for the poor should be high priorities for the government and the community.
—Luisa Baars, MAS Translation Services

A critical way that we can make an impact on the poverty rate in the city, which greatly affects our entire region, is to put a stronger emphasis and funding support on the resources that will help impoverished families rise above their current situation, move toward self-reliance and reach their full potential. Child-care subsidies are especially important to this initiative because if families can’t afford adequate child care, they are less likely to be successful. Providing child-care subsidies would encourage parents to secure employment, which in turn will help them to rise out of poverty.
—JoAnne Ryan, president and CEO, Volunteers of America Upstate New York

I believe that if a person or family can make more money on social welfare, why bother to work for less money? Even at $10 per hour, how could anyone live on $20,800 per year? As far as I’m concerned, I’ll pay 50 cents more for a burger and 50 cents more for a car wash to help increase a wage to where someone can eat, be housed and get transportation. I’m all for some assistance to those who at least work.
—Daniel Mossien

Without the necessary skills to be employed, there will be no jobs. Without jobs, the poverty cycle will just continue forever. If they don’t get a diploma, there is no hope other than focused training.
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport

How could it not be a major problem? Aside from the tremendous moral costs to our society, we pay enormous current costs for all the many consequences of poverty while, at the same time, depriving our region of the productive contribution of a huge proportion of our citizenry. Help someone out of poverty and we win twice!
—Mike Haugh, Pittsford

We have to stop pretending our region will be all right even if poverty in the city worsens. We have to stop pretending that the city will benefit if job creation is limited to the outer suburbs. We have to stop pretending that it is acceptable to force people to buy a car in order to get to work. We have to stop pretending that roads are not publicly subsidized, and we need to stop cutting transit service out of the mistaken belief that it is subsidized more than roads. We have to stop pretending that our city is “revitalized” because we have a handful of new housing units. We need to stop pretending that retail and housing developments in the suburbs are “economic development.” We need to stop pretending that we can wave a magic wand that will cut taxes and make everything right in the world, when in fact we cannot cut taxes until we deal with the pressures that poverty puts on the budget, and until will grow economic activity. We need to look at cities and regions that have turned themselves around. We need to focus job creation in the city; not just downtown, but the empty or underutilized industrial land throughout the city. We need to invest in transit to increase accessibility to jobs. We need to understand what drives poverty, and we need to get serious about real solutions that will make a real difference.
—DeWain Feller, Rochester

The overarching generosity of the greater Rochester region only makes the failure of the city school system even more painful; i.e., it has never been for lack of good intentions, money or capable education professionals that we have failed. Lengthen the school day; turn the schools into hubs for neighborhood businesses, libraries, gyms and social services; and create opportunities for the entire region to participate in a well-organized and tangible “intervention.” To think that a couple percentage points of improvement over the next decade suffices is to print this article and poll over and over again forever.
—Sean Phelan

I think poverty in our region drags down the entire area. The factors and actions listed above all contribute to poverty. I don’t think it helps to blame any one entity for the problem that I suspect was created over several generations. To correct the problem will take many years and require many special interest groups (both private and public) to rethink their goals and work toward a common goal (i.e., what is best for the “community of Monroe”). I think former Monroe County Executive Lucien Morin coined the term community of Monroe; I think he envisioned everyone pulling together for the betterment of the community of Monroe. All too often it appears we’re working against one another.
—Peter Bonenfant, Fairport

We would not need to think about greater income distribution if we had a countywide school system.
—Ken Maher, Rochester

As Mayor Warren recently stated, it depends on where you sit (i.e., live, work, play) to actually see or even be somewhat aware of the seemingly intractable poverty issue in our community impacting all us. It needs to be “seen” if we are ever going to move the needle on improving this very significant issue.
—Bill Wynne, Fairport

We have a longstanding issue of chronic poverty fueled by gaps in education and thus opportunity, leading to feelings of hopelessness and lack of knowing what might be possible. Multigenerational poverty has created a large and growing group of people who don’t even think employment is a possibility, and who have no idea how to break the cycle. Look at Wilson Commencement Park for one example of how to help people break the cycle: adults receiving support through a combination of child care and education, plus learning how to obtain a job and keep it, is one proven path. Create a supportive environment where it is possible and worthwhile to work, and people will do so.
—Dave Vanable, Honeoye Falls

We have been very fortunate as a community to have avoided most of the devastation that could have been caused by the loss of probably more than 100,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs at Kodak, Xerox, B&L, Delco and other manufacturing employers over the last 30 years that didn’t require significant education as a qualification for employment. However, we are now limited in our ability to find people for current jobs that require more than a high school education. We also fail to attract new employers because our workforce is not competitive. Until we help people understand that a quality education is the key to escaping poverty, we’ll continue to languish as a community defined by our horrible measures of poverty, graduation rates, poor housing, homelessness and hunger. None of the possible choices in question No. 3 are even close to the necessary solutions. We’ve been trying to do some of these things for more than 30 years and haven’t even made a dent in the problems. We need to change parents’ and students’ attitudes and expectations for education and success.
—Bob Volpe, Highland Development Services

The region’s elite have mapped a strategy to grow the local economy and it appears to be working. Poverty can be defeated if it becomes a real priority (not just a rhetorical opportunity). There are successful models of dealing with poverty in other communities in the United States and abroad. We just have to be willing to try them here.
—Brian Kane

We have rundown properties and homes all over the county, along with bridges and roads. Create hands-on opportunities to teach carpentry, plumbing, electricity and HVAC and potentially return homes to the tax rolls. Potentially expand the program to existing homes to help fix properties through landscaping, painting, roof repair, and more. This would create training opportunities and help the elderly or those unable to pay for the work on their own. Bring in and engage area businesses to donate time, supplies and training. Another good opportunity to give tax credits to businesses that help.
—Keith Newcomer

It’s not the house you live in but how you live in the house. Is education being promoted and valued? Are the principles and values of society being taught and rewarded? Are the children being motivated to get ahead in life and be good productive citizens? Is diversity being taught? These are the things that will help people overcome poverty and allow them to help themselves get ahead.
—Grant Osman, Pittsford

The City of Rochester needs to try to attract and secure manufacturing employment for low- to no-skill workers and possibly offer transportation to where these employers are located. If someone with a Rochester City School District degree can secure an entry-level job that pays $15 to $18, they can begin to escape the cycle of poverty. Paying good money for valuable work grows the economy of the region as these consumers will spend those dollars locally. RCSD needs to explore the cost/benefits of inner-city boarding schools with the teachers’ union. Only a holistic approach to raising and educating children will be the answer for some of our inner-city youth. We need to stop the cycle of “children raising children” as they are not good role models and have no clue how to parent, educate their children or raise them to be self-sufficient, contributing members of our community. We currently spend enormous amounts of dollars and the situation worsens. We need to spend enormous amounts of money in new strategies and new structures to implement those strategies.
—Michael L. Harf

There is no doubt about the education and physical heath, and crime rates are a direct result of poverty. I have seen the disparity between my mid-income and wealthy customers’ children compared with low-income single moms play an enormous role in the mental health and legal welfare of teens and young adults.
—Laurie Broccolo, Broccolo Tree and Lawn Care

This critical and crippling problem for our region is finally seeing the light of day. And just like a cancer that spreads, this too will metastasize and the generated income inequality will impact all of our lives. It’s time for the whole region to become committed to marshal our substantial resources and focus on solving this problem.
—Alan Ziegler, Rochester Business Ethics Foundation

The city population has lost its mojo. City leaders need to infuse city residents with hope so they believe life can be better in the future. We need to break the cultural cycle of poverty in Rochester.
—Bruce Pollock

I can’t believe this question even has to be asked. Isn’t the answer obvious? You’d have to be living under a gold-plated rock in deepest Victor to be able to pretend that concentrated poverty isn’t a problem for the whole region.
—Jason Haremza

Knowledge is power; we need to encourage education as a tool to escape poverty. With education comes understanding of personal finances, access to employment and the ability to realize that something better is attainable.
—Nancy May, APPC

Poverty is possibly the biggest issue in our community, if not in all of society. How can we as a people allow/accept the extent and depth of poverty that currently exists? How can it be justified that 80 of the wealthiest people in the world have more wealth than the poorest 3,500,000,000? (Yes, 3.5 billion.) Our problems with education, crime, race relations, unemployment, etc. can all be traced back to poverty and income inequality. Our capitalistic economic system creates “winners” and “losers.” However, there is only a very small percentage “winners.” These “winners” have an unbalanced amount of wealth and influence in our financial and political systems, which perpetuates the inequality. In America, our political system was intended to represent all of the people and our economic system was intended to provide equal opportunity. Neither exists today. Monroe County is a perfect example of this. The disparity in crime rates and graduation rates between our city neighborhoods and suburbs is overwhelming. The census data shows us that this is not a coincidence. In zip code 14534 (Pittsford), which is over 87 percent white, the average income is $106,113 and the average house value is $244,200; yet in 14605 (north of downtown), which is 17 percent white, the average income is $18,569 and the average house value is $57,100. Who’s to blame? We all are; anyone who accepts this on either end of the spectrum is at fault. How do we correct this? We need to adjust our economic model by placing greater value on workers and customers, over investments and shareholders. We need to ensure everyone has the same starting point and opportunity for self-actualization. We need to reform the tax system and entitlements so that we provide a safety net for a small few but create a springboard for the rest. We need to reform our political model back to one that truly represents the needs of the majority of the people, not just those who can buy influence. Finally, we need a cultural realignment of our priorities to where the greater good is more important than individual gain.
—Chuck Maloy

We all know that poverty results from segregated neighborhoods, failing schools and the breakdown of family life. Our challenge is agreeing on solutions and how to pay for them. The federal government specializes in “one-size-fits-all” programs that lack local participation. Local charities don’t have the financial muscle to make much of a dent. As a community, we must evolve structures that support families through aid, counseling and expanded opportunities for jobs and education.
—John Calia

Task forces every few years to address this issue will not solve the problem. If young people living in poverty do not graduate high school and develop work skills, they will remain in poverty. Child support for unwed parents already living in poverty must be addressed. If individuals receiving TANF benefits have additional children, the poverty rate automatically increases unless child support is provided. Education and workforce development must be part of the equation.
—Richard Schauseil, retired, Monroe County

Clearly, continuing to form study groups, committees and “throwing money” at the problem has gotten us nowhere! Time to quit addressing the problem and time to solve the problem—but “nobody” wants to step on anybody’s toes!
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield

Our poverty problem will get better when households have two responsible parents raising their children as a family with the No. 1 priority to focus on proper social behavior, be accountable for one’s choices by setting examples at home, K-12 school success by parental involvement and going to college is important to hear from a very young age on. Be respectful and kind to others and property while growing up in our community. Parents being parents, not their children’s friend or buddy.
—Dave Rusin, Pittsford

Government cannot solve this. Bad government is a major part of the problem.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield

If we throw another trillion dollars at the problem of poverty, we’ll certainly get the same results. 2014 was the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, and we’re pretty much in the same place we were when we started. There is 1 big difference: in 1964, 22 percent of black children were born out of wedlock. In 2014, 72 percent of black children were born out of wedlock. The keys to keeping the next generation out of poverty is to look at the common denominators of people who are not in poverty: 1) they finished high school; and 2) they waited until after high school to have children. Mayor Warren is such a great example and inspiration of how to keep out of poverty that she should use her example on a regular basis to visit the Rochester City Schools.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D.

What a totally biased survey; it’s really a "push" survey. To reduce inner-city poverty, stop thinking up worthless "investment" projects, and lower taxes and crime in the city and most of all improve the business environment in the city and state to encourage job growth. This would include reductions in burdensome regulations and taxes. How about tax incentives to encourage two-parent families?
—George Dounce

Poverty is a symptom, not a reason for urban decay and urbanites of all backgrounds and being left behind. Education is the reason for poverty. As long as our urban public schools graduate 39 percent of children—if even that is an honest number—then no amount of Anti-Poverty Forces are going to do anything positive. Throwing money at people to make them socially mobile has been a failure, is a failure, and will continue to be a failure. The answer is a long-term solution of a partnership of a forward thinking government and community leaders who do whatever has to be done to convince urbanites that two parent families, control of emotion, wellness and parental ownership of local schools and the scholastics of their own kids and their neighbor’s kids are more important than sex and drugs and rock and roll. The government should get off this idea of salvation being more money and that to pay for more money for salvation government has to be to redistribute from those that have a clue to those who don’t yet have a clue. Government creates this kind of partnership and do what has to be done to get behind the partnership.
—Jay Birnbaum

Government involvement in family affairs has caused our poverty problems. Diminishing personal responsibility causes poverty!
—John L. Sackett Jr.

Income redistribution merely gives the poor a fish—let’s rethink the educational process to include the entire family. After all, the system has failed at least four generations. Longer school hours, training in social skills, community service among others need to be included. Link other social service type payments that go to the household with school attendance by the child. I’d like to consider some of pay to attend program. Revamp the city school board to serve as a real board of directors with some appointed positions to include business people, attorneys, parents and media reps. I would like everyone to see where and how all the money is spent—if it’s efficient, we should know it. If it’s a rat hole of expenses, the stakeholders need to know. The revolving door of school board members—all of the same political persuasion—maintains this failed system. I believe that city residents who know more will demand better.
—Bob Miglioratti

Without DRASTIC measures, the concentration of poverty in the city of Rochester will escalate. Start with mandatory, fully paid, full-day preschool. Dissolve RSCD and send all the students to suburban schools where they would be exposed to middle-class lifestyles. Then make two years of community/technical school mandatory with full tuition covered. Follow that with two years of mandatory public service jobs. Then guarantee job placement at a company that pays living wages and benefits. With that immersion in education, discipline and employment—and dare I say—actual caring on the part of society as a whole, most young adults would be ready to embrace work life. Complimenting this approach would be mandatory community volunteerism —professionals, retirees, etc.—who work and mentor students from the time they enter preschool. Only this compassionate, sane, common sense approach will lift us from the shame of institutionalized poverty. But who is going to be man enough to think and act this far out of the American box? We need an American Mahatma Gandhi.
—Eve Elzenga

The best thing we can do to assist the poor is to link existing programs with behaviors we expect from the poor, which will help them take best advantage of the taxpayers’ assistance and lift themselves up. I have no problem with taxpayer dollars helping with affordable housing and quality daycare for the working poor—they are working and that should be supported. We must hold people accountable when we help them so they can get unstuck from the trap of welfare. Respect for their human dignity points to this combination approach—dignity some may not believe they have, but I do. There will always be some who are not as successful as others, but most can be helped to achieve a more stable and more independent financial situation and therefore a more stable home environment for children. I don’t have all the answers but will outline a few ideas here. For example, there should be a concrete expectation that one must be required to send kids to school every day, and to tutoring programs if those same kids don’t come in with their homework completed. Perhaps there should be a consequence to the parent if one’s children are disruptive in the classroom because that disruption deprives the rest of the kids who want to learn of an education. It is not discrimination to remove disruptive kids from the classroom and put them into in-school suspension—maybe we add more resources to those in-school suspension rooms so the disruptive are made to be quiet while educational lessons are given—and they stay in in-school suspension until they demonstrate that they know how to behave. You EARN your way out of in-school suspension. Perhaps the adult should be required to attend and complete GED and job training within a reasonable period of time, after which the adult is required to work—even part-time or volunteer.
—Debbie Gleason

The options and choices in the survey are not congruent to solving the poverty problem in Rochester, or in the country for that matter. The elimination of welfare and social services as a hatchet to the family structure is the solution. The common denominator of the majority of social ills are welfare and social programs that undermine the family structure. Problems with crime, education, drug use, personal morals, bad behavior, teenage pregnancy, lack of respect and on and on are directly proportional to people on welfare. Look up the statistics. Years ago, the poorest of immigrants sacrificed and worked hard to provide for their families. Stressing the importance of education and work ethic to their children. Those people are today’s taxpayers. Now, the scourge of welfare has created a trapped uneducated underclass that is a drag on our society. Providing housing, pocket money, medical, food and every other subsistence under the sun if you know where to look, is the cause of poverty. The more kids you have, the more money you get. If you are unmarried, you get more. City schools are becoming day care centers until someone reaches 18 years old. Then they could collect their own checks. Cradle-to-grave welfare. You can tax the working class only so far. My message is this: The cow is on her knees, she is being milked dry. It is time to be bold and responsible and break the cycle of welfare and stop the bleeding heart liberals from stealing hardworking taxpayers’ money and using it to fund the destruction of the fabric of this great country. Use common sense and logic to contemplate this mess. The survey cites government "investment" as solutions to reduce poverty. Hogwash! That "investment" is nothing other than expenditure of my and your, tax dollars. Please let me word the next survey, and I promise you I will not call the expenditure of my tax money as a giveaway to someone I don’t even know an "investment." It is not a solution for poverty, but actually an enabling of a bad situation and funding for more government bureaucracy. Stop the madness. Stop rewarding and paying people for breathing air. If you want to end poverty, cut taxes on businesses so they could afford to hire more people. Create an environment that creates jobs—and not government jobs. Property, city, county, state and school taxes, are the detriment to businesses expanding. The liberals call for "fair share," and I agree. All welfare recipients should contribute their "fair share" by making a positive contribution to society. Get a job and pay your "fair share" in taxes. Get a taste of income redistribution for yourself and see how good it tastes. This year, average Americans will work until the third week in April, or more than 100 days for the U.S. government to satisfy their annual tax burden. Does Uncle Sam really need to make more "investment" or should he get out of the way of the people that understand economics i.e. successful business owners.
—Lou Romano

Every city in New York State is hurting, and they are all run by the Democrat party. Does anyone else see a pattern here? Just like New York State, which is No. 1 in high taxes, and No. 48 in job creation and real growth. Democrat control once again. I rest my case.
—George Thomas, Ogden

When Monroe County had both Kodak and Xerox providing jobs we enjoyed a semblance of prosperity—now with both of those companies skeletonized startups are fleeing to the suburbs or completely out of Monroe County. Urban Development corps have not delivered on promises. The core of the problem lies with the schism between city and suburbs and lack of cooperation or leadership. Start with education then move to city living facilities that are upscale and secure. So long as the people with money won’t live anywhere but outside of the city no amount of entertainment venues will revitalize Rochester.
—Wayne Donner, Rush

This is a highly complex and emotional issue that we have struggled to address for decades. We have an embarrassing wealth of resources; ministers, not-for profits, foundations and government dedicated to addressing this issue. What we don’t have is an on-going, coherent process. We need an objective assessment of what the problem is, what the needs of those in chronic poverty self-identify and get at some of the root causes. Then we need a strategic plan developed by professional managers, not self-serving entities. Finally we need accountability for every dollar spent. We also need to recognize that we can’t use government-driven social engineering to get people to change their behavior on both ends of the spectrum. If we need to change the whole educational system based on a 100-year-old model, so be it. We need smart, bold and courageous leadership to articulate the vision and then pull together to follow through.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester

Many, many inner-city parents are neglecting their children by failing to have their children get a full K-12 education in our already-existing free city schools! No more investment is needed. The schools already exist. The teachers are already there. Take advantage of it!
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency Inc.

Government policies have created the poverty problem by creating a large dependent class. New York State has some of the wealthiest poor in the world. Most statistics don’t show the generous taxpayer subsidies in the form of rent subsidies, earned income tax credits, food stamps, free education, subsidized health care, college grants, free phones, etc. I don’t classify that as living in poverty. In order to correct the so called poverty problem, the government must unleash the economy by reducing all taxes and over regulation. This will move the resources out of inefficient government and in the hands of the productive regulated private sector.. This will produce jobs which the impoverished can benefit from and become self-sufficient instead dependent upon government bureaucrats and their failed policies.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy and Associates Inc.

For more comments, go to rbjdaily.com.  To participate in the weekly RBJ Snap Poll, sign up for the Daily Report at staging.rbj.net/dailyreport.

1/30/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


  1. The cost of living goes up 10 percent per year, and we only get 1.7 percent cost of living raise. Go to advisers and ask them.

  2. Based on the number of comments from the socialists, we are finished. We already feed, clothe and house the poor. We educate their children, provide health care and even direct cash payments. Good gracious! What more do you want? All these non-profit organizations, in addition to state and federal services, should have alleviated this years ago. There is equal opportunity and we actually do more for them, but equal opportunity does not mean equal outcome. Actions have consequences, and that can be a good motivator. When you remove the consequence, the bad behavior (unwed mothers, laziness, etc.) will continue.

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