Poverty is creeping up in the Syracuse area.
Today, 44,527 Syracuse city residents — or about 34 percent of the population — live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census of 2010. That’s an increase of nearly two percent since 2005.
Women and children are the majority of the poorest group. But the number of men is also growing.
The reasons, say experts on poverty, are the recent recession, lack of job growth and the education gaps among the poor.
“The recession has of course had a huge impact on the city,” said poverty expert and Syracuse University professor A. Dale Tussing “but lack of jobs coupled with major education barriers among schools and students are also a big problem here.”
Some statistics on poverty, from the Census:
- In 2005, the city had 41,137 residents lived below the federal poverty line. In 2005, that was an income of $19,350 a year for a family of four. Today the federal poverty line is $22,350 for a family of four.
- From 2005 to 2010, the majority — 53 percent — were women and children.
- But with the recession, men who are now out of work account for 34.5 percent of those in poverty. That’s a 6-percent increase since 2005.
One of those newly poor men is Darrel Gibbs. He’s been in and out of jobs, mostly as a restaurant dishwasher, Gibbs admits. But because of the recession, he said, the last few years have been the worst. He lives at the Oxford Inn, a homeless shelter for men in Syracuse.
“I really am hoping to someday get back on my feet so that I can have a home and a paycheck,” he said. “I know I have to have patience but it’s hard. I would give anything to be working right now.”
He’s been at the Shelter for three months, he said. He is signed up for public assistance and is waiting to receive it. “I get food stamps and have a place to sleep,” he said, “but it’s hard to buy food when you don’t have a kitchen of your own to put it in, so I just buy what I need.”
At St. Lucy’s parish, Father Jim Matthews has seen a growing number of unemployed and homeless people in line for food. The food pantry lines are long on most days they are open, he said.
“Our pantry helps those in need on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays,” Matthews said, “and it hardly matters what day it is, people are always lined up.”
St. Lucy’s Bread of Life ministry — a weekly lunch program — is also growing more and more crowded.
“On Wednesdays we offer a hot meal and more people are lining up everyday, including women and children,” Mathews said. “I don’t have exact figures but I can tell you that the numbers are up and it hasn’t gotten any better.”
David Van Arsdale, a professor at SUNY Onondaga who studies poverty, blames the long food lines and increasing poverty on a lack of job growth in the area. He calls for new efforts to create more jobs.
“If we can concentrate on thinking about ways our city can generate new revenue and focus on helping our own population,” he said, “then that’s a step in the right direction.”
Van Arsdale suggests creating worker-owned cooperatives as businesses to expand jobs employment. “I think we have to look at our local resources and new models of employment,” he said. “We’re like a perfect city to experiment with this model.”
At one time Syracuse was known for it’s manufacturing companies. Big names such as General Electric and Carrier were among the top companies that employed workers in the area. Now, both are gone leaving many people unemployed and struggling to find work.
Former SU professor Tussing recalled the city’s lost manufacturing past. “Jobs that require special skills such as textiles, manufacturing or machine operation, for example, had the opportunity to leave, and they did,” said Tussing. “Mix that with the gap in education among residents here in Syracuse and you have the underlying issues of poverty.”
He’s urging new programs to retrain the unemployed and to keep young people in school. Beyond, he said, the area needs a different attitude. “It’s not enough to provide the opportunity,” said Tussing. “We must have the belief that it’s going to be worthwhile.”
(Sistina Giordano is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)