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Rochester poverty rate decreases, still among top three nationwide

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.

Source: RMAPI, ACT Rochester, city of Rochester
Source: RMAPI, ACT Rochester, city of Rochester

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.

Source: RMAPI, ACT Rochester, city of Rochester
Source: RMAPI, ACT Rochester, city of Rochester

“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.

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Report: Rochester’s child poverty rate, disparities still high

African American children are nearly four times more likely to experience child poverty than white chidlren, while Latino children are more than three times more likely, an updated report from ACT Rochester and the Rochester Area Community Foundation shows.

“Hard Facts Update: Race and Ethnicity in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area” is an update on the organizations’ 2017 report. The update offers sobering data of the deep disparities in the Rochester area.

Jennifer Leonard
Jennifer Leonard

“This updated report leaves no doubt that we need to change local practices that have systematically disadvantaged our neighbors of color,” said Jennifer Leonard, president & CEO of the Community Foundation. “Fortunately, the report does show some improvement in educational disparities, likely due to a renewed focus on school climate and racial equity in the Rochester city schools.”

Child poverty rates in the nine-county region demonstrate the stark differences among racial and ethnic groups, as well as when comparing the Rochester region with both New York state and the nation. For the nine-county region, African American children have a 49 percent poverty rate, while the rate for Latino children is 40 percent. The rate for both white and Asian children is 13 percent, according to the report.

One of the educational measurements in the report is Grade 3 reading level. The measure often is cited as a critical milestone in a child’s education. The observation is that if a child can “learn to read” by this point, he or she will be able to “read to learn” in later grades, according to the report. But just 27 percent of Latino students and one-quarter of African American students in the nine-county region achieve this milestone, compared with 52 percent of white students and 53 percent of Asian students.

Latino and African American students in the Rochester region lag behind students of the same groups statewide, and by a margin of 16 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Similar gaps exist in Grade 3 math proficiency as well.

Grade 8 English scores show an even greater disparity among racial and ethnic groups, the report shows. There is a 31 percentage point gap in the proficiency rate between African Americans and whites, while there is a 28 percentage point gap between whites and Latinos.

The report isn’t all doom and gloom. While graduation rates within the region exhibit drastic disparities, the gaps in graduation rates are somewhat less stark than those for education testing outcomes. With recent improvements in local graduation rates, the gap for African Americans and their statewide counterparts has narrowed significantly. There currently is no gap for Latinos.


The four-year graduation rate for Latinos in the Rochester region in 2019 was 75 percent, while for African Americans it was 72 percent. That compares with 91 percent for white students and 92 percent for Asian students.

Other important findings in “Hard Facts 2020” include:

• Compared with whites in the region, African Americans are almost 3 times as likely to be unemployed and 3 times as likely to live in poverty, and earn incomes that are less than half of whites in the region.
• Compared with non-Latino whites, Latinos are 2.5 times as likely to be unemployed and 3 times as likely to experience poverty, while earning incomes that are only slightly higher than half (53 percent) those of Whites in the region.
• Compared with whites, African Americans are dramatically less likely to own homes (32 percent versus 73 percent); more likely to pay a higher percent of income for rent (44 percent compared with 30 percent); and, for those who do own homes, own a lower-valued residence (59 percent of average white-owned home values).
• For Latinos, the outcomes are similar: Homeownership is lower (35 percent compared with 73 percent); rent burdens are higher (44 percent of income versus 30 percent); and home values are lower (68 percent of white homeowners).


Corroborating these findings, a recent study by Diversity Data Kids found income disparities between African Americans and Latinos and whites in Monroe County to be the fifth highest in the U.S. out of more than 31,000 counties.

“Economic disparities within our region and in comparison to the nation and state are extraordinary,” the report states. “These disparities — way out-of-line with the national and statewide experience — reflect a type of racism that must be stopped if our region is to prosper.”

ACT Rochester and the Community Foundation offer a number of suggestions to begin to turn things around:

• Conduct community-wide conversations about race, racism and inequality.
• Develop goals and a plan to reduce the region’s exceptional concentration of poverty, specifically in the city of Rochester. There are three broad strategies to achieve this: reduce poverty, attract more people of means into the city and expand housing opportunities outside of the city for people in poverty.
• Take immediate actions to lessen the concentration of student poverty.
• Work to reverse the de-concentration of employment. For several decades, the city of Rochester was able to hold onto its employment base even as the population declined. But with the loss of manufacturing, with its anchoring brick and mortar plants, jobs have left the city.
• Plan to reduce residential segregation. A 2012 study found that segregation in our area recorded the Rochester metro area as having the 5th highest degree of segregation among cities of Rochester’s size. Rochester’s rating placed it 31 percent higher than the mid-point of comparably sized cities.

The report’s authors suggest that individuals learn, engage, advocate and ask the hard questions that address racism and segregation in the community.

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ACT Rochester Regional Report Card shows improvement needed in several areas

ACT Rochester has released its annual Regional Report Card, which shows that the nine-county Rochester region trails the state as a whole in six of the eight areas analyzed.

As a region, in the categories of children and youth, economic security and public safety, Rochester fares up to 10 percent worse than the state, while in the categories of the economy, education and health, the region is worse than New York State by more than 10 percent.

The good news is that in the areas of community vitality and housing, the Rochester region fared better than the state as a whole.

But in terms of long-term trends, the region improved by more than 1 percent in just four areas: children and youth, education, health and public safety. The region declined by 1 percent or more in the areas of community vitality, economic security, economy and housing.

The report card shows that the region is growing more diverse, with 83 percent of residents reporting their race as white in 2014-2018, compared with 85 percent in 2000. While the white population decreased by 2 percent, the Hispanic population increased by 67 percent, the Asian population increased by 52 percent and the African American population increased by 13 percent between 2000 and 2014-2018.

The report shows that the median household income was $57,400 in 2014-2018, a decrease of 12 percent from 2000. That’s lower than the state’s median household income of $65,300 and $60,300 in the nation. The city of Rochester had the lowest median income in the region and the highest rate of poverty, with one-third of its residents living below the poverty line.

Between 2010 and 2018, the region gained back the 17,000 jobs it had lost during the Great Recession of 2008-2010, and the region’s unemployment rate declined to 4.2 percent in 2018.

Data for the various indicators in the report card are from different years, ranging from 2016 to 2019 and are compiled by the Center for Governmental Research Inc. The report card can be found at ACT Rochester’s website.

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ACT Rochester Report Card: Improvement needed in key areas

The City of Rochester and the nine-county Finger Lakes region continue to underperform in several key areas related to the economy, education, health and public safety, and one element that has beleaguered Rochester for some time has not improved: child poverty.

ACT Rochester on Thursday presented to a standing-room-only crowd its Eighth Annual Report Card, held at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. Community members, business leaders and elected officials learned that for the first time since the Report Card began, the region performed worse than New York State as a whole in half of the areas measured.

From 2012 through 2016, one-third of people in the City of Rochester lived in poverty, 7 percentage points higher than in 2000, and higher than the state rate of 15 percent. At 50 percent, Rochester had a higher child poverty rate than the state’s 22 percent rate, as well as other cities in the region. Both poverty and child poverty rates in Rochester had large disparities in terms of race and ethnicity, with people of color living in poverty at higher rates than whites, according to the Report Card.

Like the other cities in the region—Batavia, Geneva and Canandaigua—Rochester had a decline in median household income from 2000 to 2012-2017 at a greater rate than the state as a whole. Its level in 2012-2016 was $31,700, the lowest of the four cities. There were pronounced disparities in median household income between black or African American and white households.

The majority of data for ACT Rochester indicators is sourced from the U.S. Census. ACT Executive Director Ann Johnson reminded the audience that data informs action.

Ann Johnson
Ann Johnson

“Where we have work to do, and all of us do, is in the role of action. Not just any action, but action that we measure how we’re going forward and look for results and impact. That’s an important part of where we need to go next, and ACT is actively involved in trying to push that agenda,” said Ann Johnson.

Some 47 percent of Rochester households were in 2012 through 2016 paying more than 30 percent of their income in housing costs—a much higher share than at the state or regional levels, 33 and 35 percent, respectively.

In 2017, the Rochester City School District spent $23,300 per student, below the state rate of $24,700, according to the report. Rochester’s spending level has increased by 39 percent from the $16,750 it spent in 2000, the smallest increase of the four cities in the region.

Last year, Rochester’s 3rd grade English proficiency rate, an important measure of early reading skills, was 17 percent, below all of the cities in the region and the state’s 51 percent. The rate increased by 11 percentage points from 2013 to 2018, the lowest improvement of any of the four cities.

Rochester’s rate of serious crimes was 471 per 10,000 residents in 2017, the report shows, the highest among other cities in the region and above the state’s rate of 182. However, this reflected a 39 percent decrease in the rate from 2000. Rochester’s rate of violent crimes increased 22 percent in the same time period.

“Data on their own are not where the power lies. They don’t make change on their own. They don’t contribute to change on their own,” said Center for Governmental Research Inc. President and CEO Joseph Stefko, who moderated Thursday’s event. “Much like the tape measure, the hammer and the pliers that are in a toolbox, data are potential instruments of change. To be effective, to be applied in ways that shape or reshape or build, tools, like data, require engagement. They require us as individuals, as organizations, as community groups to open up the lid, understand the power of what’s in the box and apply it in smart ways.”

ACT is an acronym for Achieving Community Targets, Johnson noted, and she said she learned earlier this week that the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council has set a target to move 20,000 people out of poverty in the nine-county region by 2025.

“We’ve been blessed in our community to have an effort of collective impact going on in multiple different arenas. That means people who sit at the table and all move toward mutual purpose and they use their resources to be able to deliver outputs, outcomes and impact,” Johnson said. “I think as we go forward what we’re going to need to do is look at what is that overall result that we want to achieve?”

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