The economic security of individuals and families is essential to achieving the values of American society. For complex reasons, this financial security is beyond the means of many in our community.
While we know the coronavirus pandemic had major impacts on economic security, the available data don’t paint a clear picture. The latest release from Census for 2016-2020 understates the impact since it includes data for 4 pre-pandemic years. In addition, income losses due to job disruptions in 2020 were somewhat ameliorated by payments from the federal government for unemployment and COVID relief.
So the poverty rate for our region in 2016-20 was 13%, just a hair below the rate of 14% for 2011-15. Poverty continues to be much higher in the City of Rochester, 30%, though that was down 3 percentage points from the previous 5-year period. And poverty continues to disproportionately impact people of color, with rates of 31% for African Americans and 30% for Latinos, compared to 10% for whites and 14% for Asians.
Poverty is the result of low incomes, and in our region the median household income was $61,400 in 2016-20, a decrease of 9% from 2000. This was lower than the $71,100 in the state and $65,000 in the nation. The City of Rochester had the lowest median income in the region.
Household incomes varied greatly among our region's racial and ethnic groups, with African American and Hispanic residents earning less (median incomes of $34,400 and $37,100, respectively) and living in poverty at higher rates (31% and 30% respectively). Household incomes of whites were nearly twice as high as those of African Americans and Hispanics. Poverty rates were higher in the City of Rochester: 40% for Hispanics, 36% for African Americans, 28% for Asians and 23% for white residents.
The poverty rate was 13% in the region and 11% in the counties surrounding Monroe in 2016-20, similar to the state and national rate (14% and 13% respectively). Since 2000, the poverty rate in the region increased by 3 points, while the state rate decreased 1 point.
As young people begin their transition to adulthood, their engagement in school or work is important to their future financial prospects. Yet in our region, 6% of youth ages 16 to 19 were not in school or working in 2016-20.
As the economy declined, the rate of people receiving public assistance in the region and state increased since 2008 but has been decreasing since 2015. Monroe and Orleans counties had the highest rates in 2020 at 2.1% and 2.2%, but Monroe had the second lowest rate of approving applications for assistance (19% in 2020).
The share of regional households receiving federal food assistance has remained elevated since the 2008 recession, with 13% participating in SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program). Rates were higher among households headed by people of color, with 38% of black or African Americans and 36% of Hispanic or Latinos in our region participating in 2016-20, in comparison to 10% of white residents.
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