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Editorial: Despite encouraging new data, poverty remains a deep-seated problem

New data showing a decrease in poverty rates for Buffalo’s children, African-Americans and Hispanics is both encouraging and an incentive to do better.
Because, apparently, we can.

If the numbers hold true and the child poverty rate fell by 10 percentage points to 43.9 percent, the lowest rate since at least 2010, it is reason to pause and examine what went right. Then, do more of it.

Skeptics question whether such a dramatic improvement in the recently released 2016 American Community Survey is possible. But even if the drop is overstated, any improvement in a factor that is a drag on Western New York’s future is welcome.

Big decline or not, poverty remains entrenched in Buffalo.

The survey shows meaningful drops in the number of African-Americans and Hispanics living in poverty – from 45 percent in 2015 to 37 percent for Hispanics and from 41 percent to 35 percent for African-Americans. The overall rate dropped from 33 percent to 30.5 percent.

Mayor Byron W. Brown says the improvement in part results from the collaborative plan he put in place bringing together a number of stakeholders to the effort. The idea is to reduce poverty rates in Buffalo, especially childhood poverty.

That reduction appears to be underway. The childhood poverty rate last year was 43.9 percent, down from 54 percent the year before. In 2015, Buffalo’s child poverty rate ranked second highest – Detroit was first – among 113 cities with populations of at least 200,000, according to the survey’s one-year snapshot. In 2016, Buffalo ranked No. 7.

Education is the starting point for maintaining the drop in poverty. It is crucial that the Buffalo School District do a better job of educating children. From there, the door opens to job opportunities that will lift people out of poverty.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has been a strong advocate for reducing poverty, setting up the Erie County Poverty Advisory Committee. He also instituted a new policy mandating that private firms hired by the county for construction projects fill 20 percent of jobs with residents who live in high poverty neighborhoods or are themselves poor.
Employ Buffalo, an employer-led initiative powered by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and involving government and philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, is working on a “multi-year,” “multi-sector” approach. The aim is to help Buffalo’s poor and working poor to gain a foothold in the job market while answering employers’ need for skilled workers.
There are other efforts to boost employment among the poor, including the Workforce Training Center and Buffalo Manufacturing Works at the Northland Avenue Beltline Corridor project. Erie Community College offers a series of certificate programs in high-demand manufacturing and medical care arenas.

Despite the drop in childhood poverty in Buffalo, the rate in the city is still more than twice the national average. While the trend is hopeful, there is much work to be done. The next step is determining what is working and what is not, so efforts can be focused in the right areas.

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