Helping the poor

Richmond’s poverty rate remains high

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Print this page by Gary Robertson

While many good things are happening in Richmond, the city still is dogged by poverty.

A recent study by the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission notes that 26.3 percent of the city’s population meets the federal definition of poverty, which is an income of $23,000 or less for a family of four. Even more startling in Richmond is that the poverty for children has risen to 40.5 percent.

By comparison, the latest Census figures indicate that Virginia as a whole has a poverty rate of 10.7 percent.  Richmond’s poverty rate also far exceeds neighboring counties such as Henrico (10.2 percent), Chesterfield (6.1 percent) and Hanover (5 percent). It’s also higher than Norfolk (17.1 percent); Roanoke (20.8 percent); Virginia Beach (7.1 percent); Fairfax County (5.5 percent); and Arlington County (7.1 percent). Danville’s poverty rate (25.6 percent) approaches Richmond’s.

“This is a crisis the city can no longer tolerate,” Thad Williamson and John Moeser, two members of the poverty commission wrote in an opinion piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Moeser is a senior fellow in the

Bonner Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond where Williamson is an associate professor of leadership studies.

Task force groups have been appointed in number of areas such as economic development, transportation and housing to act on the commission’s proposals.

Moeser says that, despite Richmond’s poverty, there has been a “complete change in the social geography of this area. Money is being injected into the city at a high rate.”

While level of poverty in the surrounding counties still is much lower, Moeser says the poverty rates there are rising as lower income families move to the suburbs to find cheaper housing. Between 2000 and 2011, he notes, the number of people living in poverty rose 66 percent in Henrico and 34 percent in Chesterfield.

Moeser laments the longstanding friction between the localities.  “The state of regional relations in Central Virginia is as bad as they have been in many years,” he says.

Moeser cites as an example problems in establishing a regional transportation system. Others have pointed to a stalemate replacing the 40-year-old Richmond Coliseum and creating a new ballpark for Richmond Flying Squirrels.

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