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Richmond official reports lower poverty rate to City Council

Parc View and Commonwealth under construction in downtown Richmond
Connor Scribner
VPM News
The downward trend comes as the city’s economy grows and migration has altered its socioeconomic makeup.

The Office of Community Wealth Building delivered its annual findings on Monday.

Poverty in Richmond has decreased in most major demographic sectors over the past decade, according to an annual report by the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building.

The downward trend comes as the city’s economy grows and migration has altered its socioeconomic makeup.

“The poverty rate in the city of Richmond is 19.8%, and it’s been moving in the right direction,” Caprichia Spellman, OCWB’s director, told City Council members on Monday.

The largest decreases in the proportion of those living in poverty were for children, 21% of whom live in poverty as of 2021, and Latinos (21.4%). Those figures, taken from the American Community Survey, were about half what they were in 2012.

The proportion of those with some college education but less than a bachelor’s degree living in poverty increased slightly — from 15% to 16%.

The city’s demographic changes were notable during this time period, Spellman noted in her briefing. White people made up a bigger share of the city’s population, while Black Richmonders came to make up less than half of the city.

Those with bachelor’s degrees or higher became 43% of the city, an increase from 2012 when they made up 34%. Typically, those with higher education have higher income, decreasing total share of Richmond’s population in poverty.

Those with lower education levels saw their share of the population drop by 37%, from 19% of to 12%. And those median incomes increased from “approximately $18,300 (2008-12) to approximately $26,100 (2017-2021), in 2021 dollars, an increase of nearly 43%,” according to the OCWB report.

Whether people with lower incomes were the ones to migrate out of the city could affect these poverty numbers, too.

Extreme poverty among Black residents dropped by 30%, but Spellman said outward migration has a lot to do with that.

Spellman said her office needs better tools to track what’s working long term. The OCWB was first created in 2014 and runs multiple small-scale programs that serve over 600 participants.

“We need more robust longitudinal tracking tools that will prove its long-term impact on our residents’ lives and economic prospects to better understand the barriers that residents actually face,” she said.

Almost one-quarter of program participants live in the 6th City Council District, which stretches from Manchester though Downtown Richmond and goes north.

OCWB’s programs include youth education programs, workforce programs, BLISS: Building Lives of Independence and Self-Sufficiency, and the Richmond Resilience Initiative — a guaranteed income program.

While BLISS connects program participants with city services and benefits, the Richmond Resilience Initiative targets the benefits cliff, a term referring to when increasing wages leads to the loss of public benefits.

As of the last quarter of fiscal 2022, the program had paid out $90,000 to 43 families. Spellman recommended expanding the program’s staff and looking to create other cohorts in the city.

The program is measured by certain stability measures including those regarding employment, mental health, transportation and child care.

“We're not responsible for reducing or lifting residents out of poverty. Instead, our work mitigates the symptoms of poverty by helping individuals overcome barriers to economic stability,” Spellman told council members.

Spellman encouraged recontextualizing the office’s work within economic barriers due to racism and economic inequity.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.