ITHACA, NY – A report released by the New York State Community Action Association (NYSCAA) places Tompkins as one of the counties with the highest percentage of people living in poverty.

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According to the report, Tompkins County’s poverty rate sits at 20.6 percent. This gives it the third highest poverty rate in New York, behind only Bronx and Kings (Brooklyn) Counties in New York City.

The situation may not be quite as dire as the raw numbers show, however. A seperate report from the Tompkins County Health Department says that the student population can heavily skew these numbers.

According to the Health Department’s report, a 2013 study showed that the poverty rate is cut almost in half when factoring out the student population — the percentage drops from 21 percent to 11.5 percent.

It’s an even more stark contrast in the City of Ithaca, where removing the students from the equation drops the poverty rate from 48.3 percent to 23.3 percent.

Those numbers would shift Tompkins to the other end of the ranking, making it one of counties with the relative least amount of poverty.

Supporting this is the fact that the NYSCAA report shows Tompkins having below state average poverty levels for children under 18, adults over 25 and senior citizens.

Disproportionate poverty

All that is not to say that Tompkins doesn’t have problems with poverty.

It’s worth noting that the NYSCAA report is based on census data, which has set thresholds for poverty that do not change based on geography. In other words, it doesn’t take cost of living into account.

The NYSCAA report puts the living wage for a single-adult, single-child household in Tompkins at around $3 higher than several neighboring counties. The hourly wage needed to rent a fair-market rate two-bedroom apartment in Tompkins (assuming that rent should be 30 percent of income) is almost $8 more than it is in Broome, Seneca or Cayuga Counties.

The NYSCAA report shows that the poverty level for African-Americans is just over 50 percent — more than twice the state average. For the Hispanic population, 34 percent in Tompkins live in poverty compared to 25 percent statewide.

According to the health department report, about 16 percent of the families with children under age five have below-poverty-level incomes.

Single-mother homes are much worse off at 37 percent county-wide living below poverty level. In the City of Ithaca and the Town of Groton, 100 percent of single-mother households with only children under age five a living in poverty.

There’s one other interesting tidbit to pull from the NYSCAA statistics: for people with lower levels of education (no degree, high school only, or associates degree), Tompkins has similar poverty rates to its neighbors.

However, for people with bachelor’s degrees, the poverty rate in Tompkins is 8.2 percent – more than double the number in Cayuga, Seneca, Tioga or Chemung counties, and still well over the 5.3 percent rate in Broome.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.