Photo by Pete716/Wikicommons
Photo by Pete716/Wikicommons

Investigative Post: The Real State of the City

by / Mar. 16, 2016 12am EST

Buffalo is doing better, but is it doing as well as the politicians and and much of the local press would have us believe?

The answer, in a word, is no.

Progress has been overstated. There’s a lot of racial inequality. We’re a high-crime city where few criminals get caught. And Buffalo is a ward of the state.

That was the bottom line to my address February 24 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. I strongly encourage readers to watch a video of my presentation online at investigativepost.org. A PowerPoint of the presentation is also posted online.

Charlotte Keith and I dug deep into the data to provide a factual, statistical framework on which I based my conclusions.

Here they are, in a nutshell:

Racial disparities are rampant.

  • The average household income in Erie and Niagara counties is more than twice as high among whites ($55,000) as it is among African Americans ($25,000) and Hispanics ($27,000).
  •  The regional unemployment rate for blacks and Hispanics is double that of whites.
  • The city’s poverty rate has increased to 31 percent and ranks third highest in the nation among large cities. The regional poverty rate for African Americans and and Hispanics is four times greater than for whites (37 vs. nine percent).
  • Only 7.5 percent of black and Hispanic elementary pupils in city schools tested proficient for language and math skills, vs. 27 percent for white. The gap for math is even bigger (nine vs. 32 percent).

The city’s economy isn’t everything it’s been cranked up to be.

  • There are 10,000 fewer city residents employed today than 10 years ago.
  • The downtown office vacancy rate has climbed to 24 percent.
  • On a positive note, the value of new construction has jumped in recent years and as many apartment units were built or converted last year as in the seven previous years combined.

Buffalo has a lot of crime and little of it gets solved.

  • Buffalo’s violent crime rate is eighth highest among 77 cities with a population between 200,000 and 500,000. The clearance rate is 19th worst.
  • The city’s murder rate was eighth worst; its clearance rate was second-worst.
  • Eight of every 10 crimes in the city goes unsolved.

Students in city schools continue to struggle academically.

    •    The share of elementary pupils showing proficiency in language and math skills is less than half the statewide average.

    •    The percentage of students graduating from high school in four years has dropped by five percent since 2009, to 53 percent.

    •    Only 37 percent of high school graduates go on to attend a four-year college.

The city is a ward of the state.

    •    State aid covers 40 percent of the city’s operating budget, more than the 37 percent provided via the city property tax and other municipal revenue.

    •    The state provides city schools with 89 percent of its operating revenue.

    •    Less than two percent of the city budget is spent on economic development, culture and recreation, health and community services, and debt service on capital projects. The lion’s share is spent on the wages and benefits of city employees, primarily police and fire.

    •    While city finances have improved, the budget still has a structural deficit that requires one-shots to balance the books.

As I noted in my closing remarks, while Buffalo is experiencing a modest recovery, our most serious problems remain unresolved, and, in some instances, unaddressed altogether.

Investigative Post is a nonprofit investigative reporting center focused on issues of importance to Buffalo and Western New York. Its partners include The Public, WGRZ TV 2 On Yor Side, WBFO 88.7 FM, and The Capital Pressroom.