Just Who in CNY Lives in Poverty and Why? Brookings Institution Aims to Dispel Nationwide Myths

Jan 14, 2019

Affordable housing units are one indicator of poverty.
Credit City of Syracuse

It’s no secret that Syracuse has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, nearly three times the national average of about 12 percent.  But an analysis by the Brookings Institution looks at just who is living in poverty, and why.  That could be the key to finding ways to boost populations that are struggling.


WAER’s year-long City Limits project has found one of primary reasons behind poverty is access to the right job.  A strong job market would seem to increase those chances.  But Fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings Lauren Bauer says jumping into the labor force or “working their way out of poverty” is not always an option.  She wants to dispel the myth that people are just sitting at home.

"A substantial portion of people who are in poverty and of working age, between the ages of 18 and 64 are caregivers, have a disability, are students.  What are we doing for them to help them maintain a good quality of living."

Bauer says that includes looking at the effectiveness of our safety nets, and customizing programs specific to those populations.  But those who are able to work might not have the opportunity to get ahead.  Bauer says many in poverty have jobs that with volatile schedules and little to no employer support.

"Conditions aren't great.  If there aren't benefits and they're a caregiver, the first time their child gets sick, they may have to exit the labor market again.  So, it's not just the desire of the person in poverty to work.  It's what kinds of jobs are they doing in what industries, what are those standards.  It's not great for getting a permanent foothold in moving up.  That has to be acknowledged as well."

Not to mention other barriers such as lack of transportation, education, and job training, again, as profiled in our City Limits series.  Bauer says seniors are another group vulnerable to poverty, even if they are somewhat protected. 

"On the one hand, Social Security does an incredible job keeping seniors out of poverty.  But because the population is aging, we may hold steady at the rate of seniors who are poor, but the numbers are going to increase because there are going to be so many more people who are seniors.  There is going to be a real reckoning to be had on what's happening with seniors and poverty."

But Bauer says the strong economy and job market translate to good news on a few fronts.  She says fewer working-age people and those in the workforce are living in poverty compared to the years following the recession.  This includes former inmates, and those with disabilities and health conditions.  Overall, the number of people unemployed and living in poverty is less than 800,000 nationwide, down from more than two million at the peak of the recession. 

You can see all 35 episodes of WAER's year-long series of reports on poverty here.