Those who are shocked by the new report on poverty in Rochester and the surrounding region have not been paying attention. For years, Rochester has ranked among the nation's poorest cities by several key measures.
The findings of the study by the Rochester Area Community Foundation and ACT Rochester show this has not changed; indeed, in some respects the level of poverty here has worsened.
Consider these facts:
- Among the 75 largest metropolitan areas nationwide, Rochester is fifth-poorest.
- Among comparably sized cities in those 75 metro areas, it is second-poorest.
- And among cities in the top 100 metro areas, Rochester's concentration of extremely poor neighborhoods ranks third.
The new report is more than a useful reminder, though. It is the most detailed look yet at the scope and geography of poverty in the nine-county region.
Its pages also contain an analysis of factors that have contributed to the region's high levels of concentrated poverty. These include racial discrimination, unchecked sprawl and the decline of well-paying jobs.
This last factor, in our view, is particularly important. The study notes that "in recent years the manufacturing employment base (here) has collapsed," with the region losing 34 percent of its industrial jobs from 2000 to 2011.
"In the long run, to be successful as a community, we need to grow our employment base," Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards told this newspaper in an interview that appears elsewhere in this week's edition. "That's not a Rochester issue. That's a regional issue."
The RACF-ACT study is intended as a call for community discussion to motivate action.
None of this will be easy. While many anti-poverty strategies have been tried, the list of failures is a long one.
The ones that seem to hold the most promise are those that aim at the target highlighted by the mayor: jobs. And they do so by working with market forces, rather than trying to defy them.
The public sector can play an important role, but in fighting poverty, nothing is more powerful than a paycheck.
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