Poverty in the city of Rochester has fallen in the most recent five-year period, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
From 2015 to 2019, the overall poverty rate fell to 31.3 percent from 32.6 percent in the five-year period that ended in 2018. Additionally, Rochester’s child poverty rate, habitually the worst in the nation, dropped from 51 percent to 47.7 percent.
The city’s rate of extreme poverty — below half the federal poverty line — fell from 16.2 percent to 15.4 percent during the most recent five-year period. Despite the improvement, Rochester ranks third in overall poverty among the nation’s 75 largest metropolitan areas, behind just Detroit, Mich., and Cleveland, Ohio.
There are now more than 5,000 fewer people living in poverty, including 3,700 fewer children, since the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative first began its work implementing strategies to reduce poverty in 2015. During that time, the total number of people in poverty in Rochester dropped from 67,443 to 62,146 and the total number of children in poverty fell to 21,970 from 25,674.
The data was compiled by RMAPI, in partnership with the city of Rochester and ACT Rochester based on new information from the Census Bureau’s five-year American Community Survey. The survey uses a larger sample size, making it the most comprehensive and reliable measure of poverty, officials said.
The latest five-year average reflects years during which RMAPI was working to reduce poverty in the region. The community collaborative was convened in early 2015 and spent months assessing the root causes of poverty and what changes would be needed to bring lasting poverty reduction. Implementation strategies began in 2016.
“These results show that RMAPI’s community collaborative approach is helping move us in the right direction and that by working together, we can make the systemic changes needed for real and significant poverty reduction,” said RMAPI’s newly-appointed Executive Director Aqua Porter. “While we are so encouraged to see that more than 5,000 people have been able to move out of poverty through RMAPI’s first five years, including more than 3,700 children, we know that there are still tremendous challenges ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest crisis that Rochester has ever faced, and data collected by RMAPI shows that the effects have disproportionately fallen on the most vulnerable in our community.”
In 2013, Rochester ranked as the fifth poorest city among the top 75 metropolitan areas in the United States.
“As we face these challenges, we are confident that RMAPI has shown our community the stairway out of poverty. We must continue to make fundamental changes to the systems that have failed people in poverty, often by design. We must continue to push as a community to eradicate structural racism and all of its effects, from legislation that criminalizes poverty to wage disparities that create artificial barriers to self-sufficiency,” Porter said. “And we must speak together as a community to advocate for new policies that address and eliminate these disparities. There is much work still to be done, but we are confident that our community will rise to the challenge.”
The RMAPI and ACT Rochester report also compared Rochester’s poverty rate to that of 17 other principal cities of similar size. Among the benchmark group, the Census data found that Rochester ranks first in overall poverty, childhood poverty and extreme poverty. Buffalo ranked second with an overall poverty rate of 30.1 percent, a childhood poverty rate of 46 percent and an extreme poverty rate of 14.9 percent.
“While today’s report on Rochester’s poverty rate brings a welcome sign of progress, I will not be satisfied until we have delivered true economic equality to our city,” said Mayor Lovely Warren. “I am happy that fewer people are living in poverty, but I’m also outraged that most of those who remain in poverty are Black and Brown as a result of our city’s shameful history of institutional racism and structural inequality.
“The economic fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic will certainly exacerbate this disparity, so I am looking forward to working with our partners in the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative and the human service agencies under the control of the Monroe County Executive as we redouble our efforts to provide every resident in Rochester an equal opportunity to reach their full potential,” Warren said.
RMAPI is organizing partners to collaborate on poverty in ways Rochester has not seen before, officials noted. Coordinating and aligning institutions around common priorities, policies, practices and shared measures allow for an integrated system that can achieve visible progress at the individual and community levels.
In order to create the greatest opportunity for poverty reduction, RMAPI has focused on two critical areas: increasing the affordability and accessibility of basic needs and improving workforce development.
“Escaping poverty means being able to earn a livable wage, advance through education, bring up children comfortably, enjoy the fruits of one’s labor and have a stake in the future of our community. By working for policies that increase earned income while bringing the cost of living within people’s reach, RMAPI is providing onramps to the middle class for our neighbors,” said Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of Rochester Area Community Foundation. ACT Rochester is a Community Foundation affiliate whose 2013 poverty report helped lead to RMAPI’s formation.