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Report: Buffalo Niagara region suffers from 'unusually unequal' poverty

The Buffalo Niagara region is not unusually poor.

But the region's poverty is "unusually unequal" and disproportionately affects people of color, especially those living in Buffalo, according to a report released Tuesday by the Partnership for the Public Good.

The poverty rate for African-Americans is three times that of white people in the region, the report found based on U.S. census data.

The poverty rate in Buffalo was 31.2 percent. Of households in the region in deep poverty – meaning households with incomes below $10,000 – nearly half live in the city.

Poverty is the result of wages being too low and living expenses being too high, said Sam Magavern, the executive director of the Partnership.

"It's not a disease. It's the result of policy choices," Magavern said at a news conference outside St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Buffalo.

Magavern was joined by a coalition of organizations that work with the region's poor. The Coalition for Economic Justice, the WNY Peace Center, AFL-CIO, NAACP and Planned Parenthood are joining a revival of the Poor People's Campaign, started by Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. Mark Blue, the president of the NAACP in Buffalo, wore a sign that read "I am a man." He explained it was the same kind worn by the Memphis sanitation workers who went on strike 50 years ago and were being supported by King just before his assassination.

"We still have a long way to go," Blue said.

Several speakers pointed to the rising cost of housing in Buffalo where rent on apartments in sought-after neighborhoods can be as high as $2,000 to $3,000 a month.

"People can't afford to live in this city," said Dennice Barr of the Fruit Belt Advisory Council.

The Partnership study drew from testimony from people living in poverty who spoke at a "Truth Commission" organized by the Coalition for Economic Justice in January. One woman, identified as Sara, spoke of not being able to provide for her three children the way she would like to.

"I have trouble paying for their school supplies during the school year," she said.

A home health care worker named Ursula talked about having to rely on public transportation and not getting paid when the clients she works with go into the hospital.

"I don't get sick time or vacation time," she said.

The study offered solutions to poverty, including raising incomes and supporting the right to organize and bargain collectively. Other solutions include reducing expenses for housing, public transportation, nutrition and child care and supporting affordable housing, community policing, criminal justice reform and programs that help people vulnerable to poverty and discrimination.

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