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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