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Another Voice: We must combat the poverty holding Buffalo back

By Sean Ryan

We have seen the headlines, and we have seen the cranes in the sky. It’s true, the city of Buffalo is rebounding after years of decline. New investment is helping to grow the city, and new job opportunities are coming every day.

Despite all of this progress, Buffalo still faces an uncertain future centered on one glaring problem: poverty. Buffalo’s poverty rate is over 30 percent. That is double the Erie County, state and national averages. And this poverty is concentrated into a handful of ZIP codes. Our entire region cannot grow and move forward with extreme concentrated poverty in Buffalo.

In order to combat the epidemic of poverty in Buffalo, we must correct the problem of underemployment. People are working in jobs that do not pay enough to support themselves and their families. Many people are working 40 or more hours per week, and still relying on government assistance programs.

I am proposing the creation of the Hiring and Investing in Real Employment program, or HIRE Buffalo. The program, which would be created and run by Empire State Development, would create an employment agency for Buffalo.

This agency would be focused on connecting people living in high-poverty areas of Buffalo with new and existing job opportunities. One of the problems facing people in high-poverty areas is that hiring practices are often not geared for them. Lack of reliable transportation, in-home Internet, a stable mailing address and phone access all contribute to the difficulty of applying for employment. The HIRE Buffalo program will help to bridge the gap between qualified applicants and available employment opportunities.

The jobs coming from SolarCity can help to alleviate the epidemic of extreme concentrated poverty in Buffalo, if we connect these jobs to the people who need them. Many of the SolarCity jobs are low- to medium-skilled and do not require a college degree. There are many people living in high-poverty ZIP codes in Buffalo that would have the right qualifications for these jobs. The problem is connecting people to the available job opportunities. We can significantly reduce the number of people living in poverty in Buffalo if we take action now.

We should not continue to face an epidemic of poverty in the New Buffalo. We have ignored the real problem for too long, and it is time for a creative solution to help tackle Buffalo’s sky-high poverty rates. The HIRE Buffalo program will get to the root of the problem, and actively connect residents living in extreme poverty with jobs from SolarCity and other companies. So long as the poverty rate in the city of Buffalo is double the rate in Western New York, our region cannot be successful or claim victory in economic prosperity.

Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, represents the 149th Assembly District.