Introduction

Syracuse has the 18th worst poverty rate among cities of the United States. And our poverty epidemic is not restricted to Syracuse; many of our region’s rural communities suffer from extreme scarcity as well. But what does this really mean for the residents of our neighborhoods?

Poverty Icon

It means lack of access to proper healthcare and affordable fresh foods. It means limited transportation options to get to and from work reliably, inadequate quality child care options, and limited savings for emergencies. And it often means living in unsafe housing or neighborhoods riddled with violence.

Our young children living in poverty are facing challenges some adults would find insurmountable – when walking to school through unsafe neighborhoods or going to bed hungry, it can be hard to concentrate on your studies. And children that fall behind in school are less likely to complete high school and college, making it hard to later become employed to support a family.

Clearly, the poverty epidemic in Central New York is detailed and complex. With it comes a series of causes and effects that make the solution seem almost unattainable.

But with every mentored child, job preparedness program or public policy change, the cycle of poverty begins to crack open. While our indicators in this section demonstrate the level of poverty in our region, it is important to remember that many of the indicators on this site are all connected to one another, and that the progress or decline of one can have a significant effect on the outcomes of another, especially our region’s poverty rates.

Living in Poverty

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Onondaga County

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Madison County

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Oswego County

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Cayuga County

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Cortland County

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Syracuse

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Oneida

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Oswego City

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Auburn

Poverty Population by Age/Gender - Cortland City

Population Below the Poverty Line - Onondaga County

Population Below the Poverty Line - Madison County

Population Below the Poverty Line - Oswego County

Population Below the Poverty Line - Cayuga County

Population Below the Poverty Line - Cortland County

Population Below the Poverty Line - Syracuse

Population Below the Poverty Line - Oneida

Population Below the Poverty Line - Oswego City

Population Below the Poverty Line - Auburn

Population Below the Poverty Line - Cortland City

Population in Poverty Over Time - Onondaga County

Population in Poverty Over Time - Madison County

Population in Poverty Over Time - Oswego County

Population in Poverty Over Time - Cayuga County

Population in Poverty Over Time - Cortland County

Population in Poverty Over Time - Syracuse

Population in Poverty Over Time - Oneida

Population in Poverty Over Time - Oswego City

Population in Poverty Over Time - Auburn

Population in Poverty Over Time - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Local poverty has a woman’s face.

Data for the city of Syracuse and all five Central New York counties reflect the “feminization of poverty” or the phenomenon that women disproportionally make up the face of poverty. Year after year, in every county, data show that more women than men live in poverty. In Central New York, women ages 18 to 24 experience the highest levels of poverty among any age/gender group. In 2018 nearly 29 percent of women in this age range lived below the threshold compared to 23 percent of men in the same range.

All five counties in the region have high rates of childhood poverty. In 2018 Oswego County had the highest poverty rates of any Central New York county, with especially high rates among young children. The highest rate was found among 5 year old children; over 36 percent lived below poverty.
Within counties, poverty rates vary widely. The region’s highest concentrations of poverty lie within Syracuse census tracts with large populations of immigrants, African Americans and Hispanics. The city’s poverty rate, which was nearly 32 percent in 2018, and the racial disparities in poverty, are problems which many organizations are working to examine and address.

Many smaller cities in the region such as Oswego, Cortland, and Fulton have high poverty rates, which ranged from 25 to 28 percent in 2018. Rural poverty is also a concern, as shown by the high poverty rates throughout Oswego County. Even in Madison County, which has the lowest countywide poverty rate in Central New York, there are pockets of high poverty such as the village of DeRuyter, where nearly 23 percent of residents lived below poverty in 2018.

The Census Bureau uses the United States’ official measure of poverty, which assesses if people have the resources necessary to meet basic needs.

Why Does It Matter?

With over 41,000 people living in poverty in Syracuse, the entire region is affected.

When communities thrive, a flourishing economic pattern increases prosperity.  When communities fail, a vicious cycle feeds generational poverty, making it difficult to break. Poverty is related to numerous systemic issues that affect the quality of life in our region — safe and affordable housing, quality education, healthy food, reliable transportation and more — making its implications complicated and vast. 

In rural areas, services are often a great distance away and residents are faced with no or limited public transportation. Lack of access to needed services, jobs and reliable transportation create huge barriers to maintaining employment and receiving healthcare.

Living on a low income consequently affects a child’s ability to succeed in school. Children living in poverty are not exposed to the same learning opportunities as their wealthier counterparts and can experience lifelong effects from the disparity. With schools largely funded by property taxes, education inequities cause this problem to persist in low-income neighborhoods.

By serving as our urban center, a thriving Syracuse can lead to a strong commercial and cultural identity for the region, drawing in residents and offering job opportunities for a sustainable economy. Surrounding areas cannot thrive without a successful urban core, making it more important than ever that we all monitor and address these poverty statistics head-on.

With over 41,000 people living in poverty in Syracuse, the entire region is affected.

A Local Story

Putting a Spotlight on Poverty

When Helen Hudson speaks, her voice has been known to send waves across Syracuse. She has long been an advocate for people that have been suppressed and go unheard, particularly those living in poverty.

Hudson knows what it’s like to try to keep afloat, too. As a single mother caring for her son at the time, she was faced with making crucial life decisions on a daily basis while living paycheck-to-paycheck: do the lights stay on or does she feed her son?

“I’ve always taken pride in showing young, single parents – preferably single mothers – that you can be in a circumstance, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay in that circumstance,” said Hudson. “That’s why I do what I do and share my stories.”

Now, as the President of the Syracuse Common Council, she pipes up when asked if we are making headway in eradicating poverty; her passion on the subject is felt in the room.

“It almost feels like we are going backwards,” said Hudson. “We have to change the landscape of what we’re dealing with in Onondaga County and Syracuse.”

According to Hudson, the root cause of poverty cuts deep within the community. In essence, she feels that we need to come together and have candid, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations.

Despite record low unemployment numbers state-wide and nationally, Hudson points out that unemployment in minority communities, especially among African American males, is more like 18-22 percent – a reality that needs to be highlighted.

“We have a community now that’s so engrained [in poverty],” said Hudson. “They figure, ‘What difference is it going to make if I try and do something?’ So, now we have to try and start working on the mindsets, especially when it comes to the younger generation. We need to let them know you can come from ANY community in this area and be anything you want to be.”

Hudson notes that without the services of nonprofit organizations – particularly programs funded by the United Way and the Catholic Charities food pantry – she would have never made it when she was struggling.

“The resources are there,” said Hudson. “We have to make sure these folks know they are there. We have to continue to tell our communities they are great, our people are great. We can do anything.”

“The resources are there,” said Hudson. “We have to make sure these folks know they are there. We have to continue to tell our communities they are great, our people are great. We can do anything.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Serve food at the Samaritan Center Learn More »
Donate
Deliver food or clothing to CazCares Food Pantry and Clothing Closet Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »