Thursday, 7 July 2016

Poverty In America: Generational Hunger In Cortland County

By Paul Shalala in Cortland, New York
A street in Cortland City

Cortland County is located in the northern part of New York state and its population is predominantly white.

It was initially inhabited by Native Americans whose numbers now make less than one percent of the total population.

According to the 2015 estimate by the United States Census Bureau, Cortland County has a total population of 48, 494 people and 94.9% of them are whites.

In terms of minorities, the US Census Bureau’s 2015 estimate states that African-Americans make up 1.9% while the remainder is shared by Native Americans and Hispanics.

The estimate further discloses that Cortland County has a poverty rate of 13.8% which is slightly below the national average of 14.8% but is one of the highest in the country.

And according to a 2015 report published by Seven Valleys Health Coalition entitled Cortland Counts: An assessment of Health and Well-Being in Cortland County, 20.7% of children live below the poverty line and 8.4% of them live under foster care.

Poverty here is mainly caused by unemployment which currently stands at 6.4%.

Cortland even beats the national average of unemployment which is 5.4%.

Most of the poor people in this county live in Cortland City, the county’s headquarters and largest city.

Poverty in this county is not new.

According to official county records, civil society organisations have been fighting poverty in Cortland for over a century.

YWCA of Cortland, a not for profit organisation dedicated to fighting poverty and mentoring children from poor homes, even runs safe homes were children are fed and educated for free.

Civil society organisations, which include non profits like the Salvation Army and Catholic relief agencies, have even formed a Hunger Coalition in Cortland to pull their resources together and fight poverty as one team.
Sara Earl 

Sara Earl, the Program Director at YWCA of Cortland, has 30 years experience in working with children living in poverty in the city and she says the problem is generational.

“Poverty in Cortland is unique and generational. You have children who live in homes where there is poverty. Their parents lived with poverty and their grandparents also had poverty. So its generational,” said Ms Earl when she briefed Mandela Washington fellows who were on a tour of the city on Friday.

She said due to the high poverty levels, half of the school going children in the county receive free lunches at school.

“We run a scholarship for children with poverty and we also have one thousand children in our child care centers. We offer them with mentorship and once every week, volunteer parents come over to mentor and make the children feel loved.”

When asked which race is more affected by poverty, Ms Earl said Caucasians were worst affected since the population of minorities like African-Americans and Hispanics is very minimal.

But unemployment is not the only contributor to poverty in the county.

According to Ms Earl, there is also inadequate housing and many people who have no homes live in mobile trailers.

This situation has forced civil society organisations to form another coalition focusing on housing.

“We formed the housing coalition in order for us not to duplicate interventions. So we plan and agree how to intervene and work towards housing for all,” she said.

And according to the report Cortland Counts: An assessment of Health and Well-Being in Cortland County, 9.8% of the population in Cortland County live in mobile homes.

This shows that the county has a higher percent than the whole of New York state which has 2.4% and the national average of 6.4%. 


  1. Paul, did you get any sense of the success rate/impact of these initiatives? Keep up the good reporting.

    1. Thanks alot for the comment. Am currently researching for my follow up story on the impact