One in four Richmond residents lived in poverty in 2015 — the second-highest concentration of indigence among Virginia’s 30 largest cities and counties, according to statistics released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The poverty rate last year in the capital was 24.6 percent, or slightly lower than the 24.8 percent rate in Lynchburg, according to the data. Roanoke, Montgomery County and Norfolk had the next-highest rates.
The high rate of people living in poverty here has been a century in the making, and it will take years to overcome, said Thad Williamson, who formerly led Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, an agency focused on battling poverty.
“Nationally, the Richmond story is similar to a lot of other places, but it’s almost like a caricature,” said Williamson, an associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond.
“There’s a central city with a high degree of poverty and racial minorities surrounded by more affluent, whiter suburbs.”
Risha Berry, project management analyst for the Office of Community Wealth Building, said battling indigence is a priority for the city. Next week, the city’s top stakeholders will join for a virtual town hall meeting to discuss ideas aimed at lifting 1,000 people per year out of poverty.
Berry said the past five years of census data reflect a positive step for Richmond: The poverty rate has decreased from a peak of 26.9 percent in 2011, when the nation’s economy still was suffering from the Great Recession.
The data released Thursday represent the Census Bureau’s estimates from a single year. When the five-year estimates are released in December, the city’s picture of poverty should come into sharper focus, Berry said.
Williamson said the city needs to focus on workforce development in the short term, so that more families have a stable income. Improving the education system and reducing the high concentration of public housing residents should be longer-term strategies, he said.
And though the local picture appears to be bleak, the region as a whole actually had the lowest poverty rate among the state’s seven largest metropolitan areas, excluding Northern Virginia.
The poverty rates in Richmond’s three main suburbs were significantly lower: 9.2 percent in Henrico County, 6.7 percent in Hanover County, and 6.5 percent in Chesterfield County.
Across the state, most Virginians are faring better than they were a few years ago, according to an analysis by Laura Goren, research director for the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a Richmond-based economic think tank. The poverty rate across the state dropped last year to 11.2 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2014.
About 44,000 fewer Virginians had earnings below the poverty line, which is $24,257 for a family of four, according to Goren.