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Buffalo has the highest poverty rate in the nation among Hispanic children, a new report shows.

Nearly 57 percent of Hispanic children in Buffalo are growing up poor, which is double the national rate and the highest among the nation's 244 largest cities, according to a Children's Defense Fund analysis of Census 2000 data.

"That is an amazing number," said Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher with the national foundation, which lobbies for poor, disabled and minority children.

"And one thing true across the board is, this was at a time when the economic boom was close to its peak," Sherman said. "If this is as good as it gets for children in poverty, then we're doing something wrong."

A report issued last year by the Children's Defense Fund showed that 39 percent of all Buffalo children are growing up poor -- the sixth highest rate in the nation.

But this week's report by the foundation clearly shows a large portion of children in the Hispanic community are among the city's neediest.

Buffalo has more than 22,000 Hispanic residents, according to the Census Bureau. Of the nearly 9,000 under age 18 at the time of the census, more than 5,000 were living in poverty, the data show. For a family of four, that means living on less than $17,029 a year.

"Latino children are not faring well during the best of times, and in even harder times they're hurt the worst," said Sandra Trujillo, deputy director for the Children's Defense Fund in New York.

Higher than average high school dropout rates and the resulting jobs at the bottom of the pay scale are issues facing Hispanic communities in Buffalo and across the country, Trujillo said.

In fact, the median household income for Hispanics in Buffalo is $17,536, compared with $19,795 for African-American households and $24,536 for the city as a whole, census data show.

But it's as much an upstate New York problem, as it is a Buffalo one.

Syracuse ranked No. 2 on the Children's Defense Fund's list with 53 percent of Hispanic children living in poverty, while Rochester ranked No. 6 with almost half of the city's Hispanic children growing up poor.

The poverty rate for Hispanic children nationwide is 28 percent; it's 36 percent in New York State.

"It's clear there's a soft spot in the economy for a lot of Buffalo families, Latino or not," Sherman said. "Anytime you have a medium-size city and a couple industries are hit hard, then families are really at the mercy of that. There are fewer places for them to turn."


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