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More than one-third of Buffalo residents live in poverty, report finds

Buffalo - Dennice Barr walks by homeless Jesus, stopping for a minute to take in the statue seen laying down on a bench in downtown Buffalo. 

"Everybody wants a good quality of life," said Barr, a Fruit Belt resident who is a community advocate for affordable housing. "The 1% in the city are driving up the prices of housing and making it impossible for people who are struggling and not making enough to actually live."

Barr says her family survives on $20,000 a year and they're able to do that because the house she lives in has been in her family for almost seven decades.

For many people, that's not the case and they fall in the 31.2% of city residents living in poverty. 

"There are things you can't do because it's outside of you budget and really difficult."

The report, completed by the Partnership for Public Good, shows there are racial and spacial disparities in poverty rates. 

Erie County's overall poverty rate sits at 14.7%, which is lower than state (15.5%) and national (15.1%) rates so the region, itself, is not unusually poor.  According to the report though, it is unusually unequal.

The findings show the poverty rate for African-Americans sits at 32.3%; it's 8.9% for white people.  And only 14% of white people live in the areas of concentrated poverty; that's versus the 64% of African-Americans living in those areas.

The report concentrates on the causes, impacts, and solutions to help those who are living in poverty.

"We really pride ourselves in this country on economic mobility; on that idea that anyone can make it and unfortunately, that's getting less and less true," said Sam Macgavern, the executive director for the Partnership for Public Good.

As the report points out, mobility out of poverty is becoming increasingly more difficult. According to studies, of those born into the bottom fifth of incomes, 42% will remain in the bottom fifth through adulthood.

"Those disparities of race and income are self-reinforcing. They help keep people in poverty."

Federal funding is seldom used to address those living in poverty, according to this report which shows the government spends around $190 billion each yar on housing, most of which goes to high-income homeowners through subsidies such as mortgage interest and property tax deductions. According to the PPG findings, the government spent $85.4 billion on households with income over $100,000 but only $34.6 billion on households with income under $30,000. 

Aside from housing, the report also focuses on health, access to education, and criminal justice involvement.

"It's very well-known that people living in poverty are more likely to be arrested for crimes; what's less talked about is how much more likely they are to be victims of crimes," said Macgavern. 

The report shows those living below the poverty level are twice as likely to be victims of violent crimes and very vulnerable to exploitation with landlords, lenders, employers. 

"People living in poverty are also victims of over-policing," said the partnership's executive director. 

Macgavern pointed to a study the PPG completed showing while African-Americans use marijuana less than white people, in the city of Buffalo, you are seven times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession if you are black than white. 

The report looks at possible solutions which the group suggests include raising incomes for working people and reducing expenses while increasing funding for basic needs like affordable housing, public transportation, and quality childcare.

Macgavern feels it is possible to implement these solutions and help people rise out of poverty only if policies aiding them are created. 

"Nothing about [poverty] is natural and we can make better choices to get us out of here." 

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The Partnership for Public Good releases their findings about poverty causes, impacts, and solutions | Click here for full details.


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