ROCHESTER — A newly released report on poverty from the Rochester Area Community Foundation reveals that the region has become a real-life "Tale of Two Cities" and disparities in education, housing and employment must be addressed for the area to succeed.
During a Dec. 10 report presentation at the Danforth Community Center, Jennifer Leonard, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer, said that there are too many people in the city, suburbs and rural areas who are scraping by while others live comfortably.
"We can therefore no longer deny ourselves the knowledge and responsibility of doing something about it," she said. "The purpose of the report is to lift the curtain about the profound poverty that exists in our area … and is a cancer on our community’s soul."
As a result of the report, the foundation has two new goals, Leonard explained: creating an equitable community and strengthening the region’s vitality.
The 49-page report found that 160,699 people live below the federal poverty level, noted Ed Doherty, the foundation’s vice president who conducted the research for and wrote the report. And the majority of the poor in the nine-county region — 59 percent — live outside of the city.
"This is unconscionable," Leonard said of the findings. "This is not who we are. This is not who we want to be."
Additionally, the report found that:
* Rochester is the fifth-poorest city in the country among the 75 largest metropolitan areas.
* Rochester ranks third for the highest concentration of extremely poor neighborhoods among the top 100 metropolitan areas.
* The Rochester City School District is the poorest urban district in New York state.
The report also shows that Latinos and African-Americans in the region are more likely to be poor than their counterparts in other areas, Doherty noted.
Those results align with the findings of a report conducted by Ibero-American Action League in recent years, said Gladys Pedraza-Burgos, the agency’s chief operations officer.
"It saddens me, the state of poverty in our community," she noted. "But what is different about this report is that it broadens the conversation."
Pedraza-Burgos hopes that the private sector will be one of those groups to become more engaged in this conversation and turn things around. Leonard said that the foundation will reach out to the suburbs to join those conversations, particularly from the area’s faith communities "where people of conscience gather."
"These are startling statistics … so we can’t continue to do business as usual," Pedraza-Burgos remarked.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Community Foundation will hold an in-depth presentation on the report from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 16 at the United Way of Greater Rochester, 75 College Ave. To attend, send an e-mail to RSVP@racf.org or call 585-341-4346. The report is available at http://racf.org/Reports.