New five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows marginal improvement in the city of Rochester’s poverty rate. It is the first data set that spans the existence of the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative.
In 2014-2018, 65,049 people, or 32.6 percent of the city’s population, lived in poverty, down from 33.1 percent in the previous five-year period. More than half of those under the age of 18 continue live in poverty at 51 percent, a slight improvement from 51.9 percent in the previous period.
“The numbers, in and of themselves, don’t say much about it RMAPI as an entity but speak to the state of our community at large,” says Leonard Brock, executive director of RMAPI. “These are the first numbers that cover the timeframe RMAPI has been in existence, so it is promising that our community was able to arrest the rate of poverty, something IBM said we wouldn’t do if we ‘did the same thing.’”
The number of whites living in poverty edged upward to 25.3 percent from 25.1 percent, while the rate for blacks was 39.3 percent, down from 39.5 percent in the previous period.
While Brock acknowledges that data sources and margins of error need to be taken into consideration, he believes data should be used to inform decision making and monitor progress.
“We shouldn’t jump to conclusions at the sight of ‘new data’ but (should) monitor the trend line over time,” Brock says.
RMAPI and others have long argued that reducing poverty takes time and requires a united crusade. The initiative recently noted its efforts to change the status quo, including using programs that give adults and young adults the resources needed to move out of poverty. Access to information and services is also part of the strategy.
“The real picture is the systems and structural barriers that have perpetuated, and continue to perpetuate, poverty, and the need for widespread accountability,” Brock notes.
He points to public policies such as wage increases and child-care benefits that can help stem the spread of poverty.
“Poverty, as a ‘numbers game’—not taking into account the cultural factors resulting from inequitable systems—is governed by ‘policy’ and played by ‘political/public actors,’” Brock says. “No marginal, outside effort would be enough to turn the curve on poverty outside government.”
In a recent report titled “Overloaded: The Heavy Toll of Poverty on Our Region’s Health,” Common Ground Health underscored yet another factor that illustrates the impact of poverty: health. Through health data, personal stories and analysis of the more than 6,800 responses to its 2018 My Health Story survey, the organization concluded that poverty drives health inequities that undermine wellness and cut lives short while costing the Finger Lakes region more than $1 billion annually.
Forty-four percent of emergency room visits were due to health inequities during the 2014-2016 timeframe, translating into 194,000 excess emergency visits and an additional $390 million in insurance billings across the Finger Lakes.
Common Ground Health’s study asserts that various sectors, including education, health care, government and faith institutions, have a role to play in eliminating health inequities, calling for a communitywide approach.
RMAPI is another advocate for collective impact and aligning of principles among institutions and government agencies.
“The alignment and push from federal, state and local government can be a game changer and the new opportunity to work more closely with the county on this issue will be a game changer for Rochester,” Brock says.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.