Here in New York, according to the 2014-2017 Community Health Assessment Niagara County Department of Health released in 2013, "23% of the people in our live below the poverty line and 44% of the population—almost one in two—is either in poverty or struggling financially and at risk." In the city of Niagara Falls, approximately 60% of our residents receive public assistance such as food stamps, welfare, unemployment insurance and Medicaid. According to 2009 data, 67% of the families in poverty are female headed households with no husband present, and 70% who are poor are unemployed. Another important statistic is that foreign-born residents are 94% above the poverty line.
When it comes to statistics, people can manipulate them to serve whatever political agenda they want. For example, in regards to 67% of the families in poverty being female headed households with no husband present, some people may simply say it's because they're not marriage material. Some people believe that the 70% who are poor, unemployed, are just lazy. The 94% foreign-born residents who are above the poverty line? Some may say they all work harder. Whatever statistics say there's always an angle of what can be said, which is oftentimes inaccurate or disingenuous.
One of the misconceptions people in my area tend to have about welfare [public assistance] is that their taxes pay for it. In part, they do. All of us who work allocate a certain portion of our taxes towards supporting our public assistance program. The reality is my county receives financial support from [New York] state and the federal government to fund our public assistance program. Because of the statistics related to poverty, and accompanying socioeconomic factors such as teenage pregnancy, poor education and etc., my city [Niagara Falls] receives a larger portion of that state and federal support. In other words, if the city were a person named Nia G. Falls, they would be living below the poverty line, receiving public assistance and parenting thousands of children.
Another misconception is that the face of welfare is "Lazy La'Shaniqua" who has 7 children by four baby daddies living in public housing. Actually, the largest portion of state and federal support any impoverished county and city receives for public assistance goes towards contracts, personnel, employee benefits and administrative services, not a welfare check. So the real face of welfare or those benefiting most from our city's poverty have more common names than La'Shaniqua. They are most likely home owners with a two income household that don't live in inner city zip codes. Do you get that picture?
Now you're probably wondering who we can blame for this. Well I'm not in the blame game business. We need more hands working, less finger pointing and the sober realization that fixing the things that are broke about our cities requires a multifaceted approach; collective work and responsibility. In the process, we also can't be naive to believe that there aren't people invested in things remaining broke [poor]. There are people like that, and they don't look like the broken.
Like with any family going through a financial hardship, we are not alone. On the other side of Canada lives Nia G. Falls’ poor cousin Dee Troit -who has also fallen on tough financial times. Maybe we, and cities like us, need to consider what strategies Dee is using to change their financial situation. That insight, may be priceless.