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Study shows severity of poverty, inequality in Onondaga County


The PEACE, Inc. 2024 Community Needs Assessment shows central New York is on the verge of having a “moment,” with the impending arrival of Micron and the launch of the Interstate 81 project. But the study stresses that lawmakers and non-profit organizations need to pay attention to make sure basic needs are being met as the community moves forward.

The numbers alone are staggering. The study notes the city of Syracuse has the second highest rate of child poverty in the nation, with 45.8% of young people under the age of 18 living in poverty. It also shows Onondaga County’s racial income gap is widening, with White Median Household Income 112% greater than Black Median Household Income.

Meanwhile, the study states in the past year, the Syracuse Metropolitan area experienced the greatest one-year average monthly rent increase in the nation at 22%.

But Todd Goehle, the Vice President of Operations and Strategy at PEACE, Inc., said the Community Needs Assessment goes beyond the data.

"We wanted to also produce a document that could help plan, that could promote advocacy, and we also wanted to sort of foreground the voices of those who probably need these opportunities the most,” he said.

The study is conducted every three years. Goehle said for the 2024 assessment, PEACE Inc. interviewed and surveyed almost 200 low-income residents, as well as direct service staff members in human and social services positions. He said it found there is inequality in the community that affects people’s everyday lives, and the systems put in place to help can be hard to access.

"Some of the examples that we have from our case managers, Head Start parents, show really how difficult it is to navigate systems which are intended to help them, so we talk about, for instance, eligibility cliffs."

The findings also show for many people, basic needs are intertwined, so a challenge in one area may lead to a challenge in multiple areas.

"We have examples of senior women who are making choices on their housing based upon their proximity to a food source and transportation,” Goehle said. “So, that's not simply a housing issue. That is a range of social determinants of health that are impacting how they decide and where they decide to live."

The Community Needs Assessment also addresses the aftermath of the COVID-19 era, showing the barriers faced by low-income communities during the pandemic were not new, but were made worse during this time period. It also noted that low-income families are now struggling to adjust as COVID-related assistance runs out, while the cost of many basic needs goes up.

But Goehle said there is reason to hope. As the Interstate 81 project moves forward and Micron begins to invest in the community, he hopes the assessment will provide lawmakers with the information they need to make improvements, while providing robust support for non-profits.

"It can't just be funding new endeavors,” Goehle said. It also has to be funding for more than one year, food pantries, clothing closets, the sort of basic things that a lot of our residents unfortunately rely on to make it day by day."

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.