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Annual report on Rochester has no surprises on racial, economic disparities


A report card on the Rochester region, put out annually by ACT Rochester, paints a picture of a community that continues to struggle with economic and racial disparities.

ACT Rochester, a Rochester Area Community Foundation initiative devoted to gathering statistics on issues of local concern, analyzed data on several topics for the report, including economic trends and education quality. It showed, as it has in past years, that when it comes to the poverty rate, Monroe County is in line with the state average while Rochester’s rate is much higher.

In New York State, 14 percent of people live below the federal poverty level. In Monroe County, the rate is 15 percent and in the city of Rochester it’s 33 percent, according to the report. All data in the report came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and represent averages from 2014 through 2018.

The report also reaffirmed that, in the city, there are pronounced racial disparities around who lives in poverty. Among white residents of the city, 25 percent live below the poverty line. The poverty rate among Hispanic residents is 43 percent and among black residents is 39 percent.

“In our community, African-Americans are making 48 cents on the dollar compared to whites,” said Ann Johnson, director of ACT Rochester. “That’s something unique not just in the city of Rochester, but in the nine-county region where people of color have simply not fared as well.”

When it comes to incomes, there are disparities across the nine-county region, according to the report. Black households have a median annual income of $30,182, compared to $61,627 for white households. In Canandaigua, which had the widest divide, the median income for white households — $49,728 — was nearly three times the $17,014 median income of black households.

The report states that job growth in Monroe County is also sluggish, at 1.3 percent in 2018, compared to 2.3 percent for the state and 2 percent for the nation in 2019. Rochester’s 6 percent unemployment rate was also comparatively high: Monroe County had a 4.3 percent rate, the statewide rate was 4.1 percent, and the national rate was 3.9 percent.

Despite the dire numbers, Johnson said there are some signs of improvement in the region. There have been notable improvements in education, for example. The number of Rochester City School District students who scored as proficient in the state’s third-grade math assessments sat at 22 percent in 2019, up from 18 percent in 2018, and 14 percent in 2017, according to the ACT report.

Statewide, 55 percent of students scored as proficient on the third-grade math assessment. The Rochester district’s numbers aren’t even close to the statewide figure, but Johnson said the improvements over several years are a notably positive trend, particularly when coupled with steadily rising graduation rates. In 2013, the district’s graduation rate was 48 percent, a number that had increased to 63 percent by 2019.

RCSD graduation rates are still well below the state’s 83 percent rate and the county’s 85 percent.

“We’re right on the cusp of ‘yes, we’re worse than the rest of the state, but maybe we can turn and be better,’” Johnson said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Johnson saw the region as at a “tipping point” in which real economic and social change was imminent. Little things, like the poverty rate dipping .5 percent or the county having a higher voter registration rate than the state and region, indicated to her that tangible improvements were coming.

Johnson hopes those trends will move forward once the outbreak clears.

“In January, things were looking good, maybe not exactly getting better, but at least holding our own and keeping our position,” Johnson said. “I think it’s really important to look at where we are now, and who knows, we may end up faring well and do even better next year.”