Although the poverty rate in Lynchburg has decreased, Randolph College economics professor John Abell shared the city’s rate is still higher than other cities in Virginia as well as the state and national poverty rates.
Abell said the U.S. Census American Community Survey five-year estimates, meaning the average over a five-year time span, showed Lynchburg’s poverty rate of 24.3% from 2012 to 2016 decreased to 22.3% from 2013 to 2017.
Abell said the 2017 data, made available in February 2019, is the most recent available. Data collection for Centra’s latest Lynchburg Area Community Health Needs Assessment ended in June, so it is not included in the newly released assessment.
Abell presented poverty data to a group of about 40 people at St. John’s Episcopal Church last week.
The Rev. Keith Anderson said the Interfaith Outreach Association hosted the poverty update to “to hear some good information not just for mere collection, but I pray it’s inspiration to address something we all have maybe a novice idea of.”
Abell used U.S. Census American Community Survey five-year estimate numbers from 2017, which he said is the most recent data available.
Lynchburg’s poverty rate is nearly 7 percentage points higher than other Virginia cities.
The poverty threshold for a family of four in Lynchburg in 2017 is $24,858.
Abell said although the poverty rate has decreased from 24.3%, he thinks “the celebration should be muted just a little bit as we realize we haven’t really dealt yet completely with the race differential when it comes to poverty.”
The rate of black people in poverty in the city is nearly double the rate of white people with 31.9% of black people and 17.3% of white people living in poverty, according to data Abell presented.
Abell said 51.5% of black people under age 18 are in poverty compared to 13.9% of white youth.
“Every other black child in Lynchburg is poor and then one or two extra at the end of the sample,” Abell said.
As for jobs in Lynchburg, Abell said the city lost 5,146 jobs between 2008 and 2010 as a result of the Great Recession.
“The Great Recession hit in 2008 … so what happened to that employment rate? Predictably it shot back up to 8.5%. It was nearly a cataclysmic downturn almost but maybe not quite as bad as the Great Depression,” Abell said.
Between 2010 and 2018, he said the city has only gained 1,784 jobs.
“We are not capable for whatever reason of producing jobs like we once were capable of doing,” Abell said.
Abell said the percent of the population ages 20 to 64 who are in the labor force, meaning they are working or would like to work, is 75% for men and 71.2% for women. He said he’s “having a hard time figuring out what is going on with the other” 25% of men and almost 30% of women who are not part of the labor force participation rate.
“In either case, these numbers for Lynchburg are significantly lower than for Virginia. We’re nine percentage points less than for Virginia. Something is going on there to have this sort of labor force disengagement,” Abell said.
Abell also broke down the labor force participation rate by race and education.
In Lynchburg, 58.3% of white people are part of the labor force compared to 60.1% of black people.
Abell said the numbers also suggest there are “differential returns to education” as people with higher degrees of education are more engaged with the labor force.
Lynchburg resident Billy McBratney said he thinks the community should focus on employment opportunities and creating more jobs.
“For folks who want to rise above poverty — and there are many of us who are trying to help that and help them — there is nothing like a job to sustain oneself. The pride that you have, the accomplishment you have, what you can pass on to your peers and your kids around you, there is nothing like that feeling. Somehow, some way we need to help more people have that feeling and have that work,” McBratney said.