Schenectady County

Poverty report confirms rising numbers

About a quarter of Schenectadians live below the poverty line. Almost 40 percent of children in Alba
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About a quarter of Schenectadians live below the poverty line. Almost 40 percent of children in Albany County live in poverty. And experts predict that these figures will only get worse in the coming year.

These are just some of the facts contained in a new report on the state’s higher-than-average poverty rates, and they came as no surprise to representatives of local anti-poverty organizations who have complained for several years that poverty in the Capital Region is worsening.

“This confirmed what we see,” said Deb Schimpf, executive director of the Schenectady Community Action Program.

“It’s what we expected, but it’s still hard to meet the need,” said Mike Saccocio, executive director of the City Mission of Schenectady.

The New York State Community Action Association, which wrote the report, hopes that it will serve as a resource for community-based organizations, elected officials and the public. It was put together using 2005, 2006 and 2007 data from the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and provides poverty rates for every county in the state, as well as upstate cities.

“Policy makers need good poverty information,” said Denise Harlow, CEO of the New York State Community Action Association. The report, she said, “elevates the issues of poverty.” According to the 2009 New York State Poverty Report, the statewide poverty rate is 14 percent, compared to a national poverty rate of 13.3 percent. More than 2.6 million New Yorkers live in households with incomes below the poverty line — $18,310 for a family of three. Statewide, the median income is $52,944.

In Albany County, the poverty rate is 12.4 percent, in Fulton County 16.4 percent, in Montgomery County 13.1 percent, in Rensselaer County 11.5 percent, in Saratoga County 6.6 percent, in Schenectady County 11.4 percent and in Schoharie County 11.7 percent.

The rates are much higher in area cities. In Albany, the poverty rate is 26.7 percent; approximately 39.2 percent of children live in poverty. In Saratoga Springs, the poverty rate is 8.4 percent; approximately 25.4 percent of children live in poverty. In Schenectady, the poverty rate is 21.1 percent; approximately 28.7 percent of children live in poverty.

Officials expect those numbers to go up next year as a result of the recession, and they are already experiencing increasing demand for services.

“We’ve definitely seen a big increase,” Saccocio said. “It started kicking in during the last part of 2008, and we’re seeing the same thing in 2009. We’re seeing more families, more children. We’re seeing more of everything.”

The City Mission provides a free nightly meal, and the number of people fed has been on the rise for years. In 2007, the City Mission fed 124,534 people; last year it fed 143,143. Numbers for January and February have surpassed the numbers for the same time last year; this year, the mission has fed 23,822 people, compared to 18,494, a 28 percent increase. “That’s a big jump,” Saccocio said. “I don’t know if it will hold for the whole year.”

more grandparents

Schimpf said that SCAP’s numbers have been rising steadily for about three years. One change is that short-term solutions are no longer effective, due to a lack of jobs and other opportunities. As a result, more clients are forced to develop long-term strategies for lifting themselves out of poverty. “We’re spending more time with people,” she said. There’s also been a notable increase in two groups: single fathers, and grandparents raising their grandchildren.

In recent years, budget cuts have made it more difficult to maintain programs. Now SCAP is waiting to see whether cuts proposed to social service programs funded by the state budget will be approved, and whether the agency will benefit from federal stimulus money.

“We’re concerned because there are cuts throughout the budget, and we’re already barely keeping our head above water,” Schimpf said.

In particular, SCAP is concerned about a 25 percent cut proposed for the state’s Homeless Intervention Project, which provides support services to people who are facing eviction, and the organization’s career readiness program, which helps the unemployed re-enter the work force. Next year’s budget does not contain funding for the career readiness program, but Schimpf has been told the funds will be restored.

At The Homeless and Travelers Aid Society in Albany, the number of homeless families seeking help jumped 40 percent in the second half of 2008, according to Ira Mandelker, the executive director at HATAS. “It’s hard to say if things were better during the first half of the year,” he said. “It could very well be that families were homeless, but staying with friends or family, and then that fell apart.” In the first half of 2008, HATAS aided 256 families; in the second half, 367.

The number of homeless families headed by two parents seems to be on the rise, Mandelker said. In the past, between 5 percent and 10 percent of homeless families seeking help from the society were headed by two parents; more recently, that percentage has climbed to 15 percent to 20 percent. “It used to be more unusual to see a mother and father come in with a family,” he said. “Someone in the household either lost work hours, or a job.”

Mandelker said that so far this year the number of homeless families looking for help is on the rise. In January, HATAS saw 53 families, compared to 40 families in January 2008.

staying homeless longer

Many of these families are temporarily housed in hotels. But the length of stay is increasing as it becomes harder to find housing and employment and shelters grow more crowded. In 2008, 55 percent of the families who sought help from HATAS were placed in hotels; in 2004, less than a third of families were sent to hotels.

“It’s harder and harder to get people out of shelters and into housing,” Mandelker said. “People are staying in shelters longer. It’s not unusual for us to have more than 30 people staying in a hotel.”

Saccocio said that the people who stay at the City Mission’s shelters do not leave as quickly as in the past. “There are not as many jobs,” he said. “People are staying longer. We’re seeing extreme winter numbers.” Approximately 65 people stay at the mission’s men’s shelter each night, and the Family Life Center, which has nine apartments for women, as well as some extra beds, is at capacity.

According to the report, upstate cities have “surprisingly” high child poverty rates. In Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica, more than 40 percent of children live below the poverty line. Statewide, the percentage of children living in poverty is 19.6 percent.

Harlow, of state Community Action, said, “If 40 percent of children in cities are living in poverty, that should be a real wake-up call.” She said high poverty rates in upstate cities can be partly attributed to the loss of manufacturing jobs. “There are not opportunities for people,” she said. “The jobs are not there.”

Poverty also disproportionately affects minorities. While one out of every 10 whites live in poverty, more than one in five blacks and one in four Hispanics are poor.

Schimpf believes that this year’s report is more accurate than last year’s because the figures are based on several years worth of data, rather than one. The 2007 report said that Schenectady County had a poverty rate of 9.9 percent; Schimpf said she wasn’t surprised to see that this year’s report listed the rate at 11.4 percent. “Last year, when we saw the statistic for the county, we didn’t think it was accurate,” she said. “We believed the poverty rate to be higher, and we weren’t surprised to see that it was.”

In Schenectady, “We have a community in distress.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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