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Foss: We must end the cycle of generational poverty

Foss: We must end the cycle of generational poverty

The Census data suggest that transcending the circumstances of our birth is difficult and that, all too often, geography is destiny
Foss: We must end the cycle of generational poverty
William Rivas works with kids after school at the COCOA House on Stanley Street.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting a 9-year-old boy named Elon, who told me he loves math and helping wash the dishes. 

A student at one of Schenectady's elementary schools, he was energetic and cheerful and enthusiastic about life in general. 

He was, in other words, a pretty typical kid, full of hopes and dreams and untapped potential. 

Unfortunately, Elon lives in a place where youthful potential is less likely to be realized than in other, more affluent communities. 

According to newly released U.S. Census data, children who grow up in Schenectady's Hamilton Hill neighborhood, with its highly concentrated poverty, will very likely become poor adults, living on an average of just $21,000 a year. 

It's a depressing finding, in large part because it reveals just how intractable generational poverty really is. 

We like to believe that there are pathways out of poverty, and that poor children can access these pathways and move into the middle class. But the Census data suggest that transcending the circumstances of our birth is difficult and that, all too often, geography is destiny. 

It doesn't have to be this way. 

And it shouldn't be this way. 

In my interactions with children on Hamilton Hill and some of the city's other struggling neighborhoods, such as Mont Pleasant, they've demonstrated that they are as gifted and curious as children anywhere else. They work hard and are excited to learn and a joy to be around. 

I met Elon at the COCOA House, the after-school program in Hamilton Hill that I wrote about earlier this week. 

If the Census data paints a grim portrait of a neighborhood in need, then programs such as the COCOA House are an inspirational counterpoint, a reason to be hopeful. The youth of Schenectady are eager for enrichment and support, and there are people working hard every day to give it to them. 

What's needed is more enrichment, more support, more investment -- more programming aimed at helping underserved youth see a better future for themselves.

For older teens and young adults, we need to do a better job of connecting them with educational and employment opportunities, and giving them a sense of what's possible.

The city of Schenectady is right to be proud of the renaissance downtown, and the energy that a revitalized urban core has brought to the community. In many ways, the Electric City is a far more dynamic place than it was when I moved here 17 years ago. 

But all this progress has not made the city's poorest neighborhoods any less poor, and thousands of children are growing up in poverty as a result. 

And unless something changes, this cycle will continue. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.   

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