“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi
ITHACA — In a city known for its vast number of restaurants, people go hungry. In a city that’s home of Ivy League powerhouse Cornell University, nearly 10 percent of recipients of Bachelor’s degrees live below the poverty line. In a town devoted to speaking out against freedom for Tibet and the dangers of hydrofracking, 100 percent of single mothers live in poverty.
This is the real face of Ithaca, NY.
The city, which serves as the seat of government for both the Town of Ithaca and Tompkins County, had a total population of 30,014, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. The median age in the city is 22.4 years, nearly half that of Upstate New York’s 40. In August, the Empire Center for New York Policy warned that despite hosting 35 colleges and universities, the majority of students attracted to the area leave by the age of 25. This trend is also seen in Ithaca, where the majority of residents have been in their residence for five years or fewer.
Ithaca is nearly evenly divided between men and women, as well as age. The city is 50.4 percent male and 49.6 percent female, according to the government. Additionally, the median age in Ithaca is 22.4 for men and 22.5 for women.
Just 57.8 percent of the population is in the labor force, according to the Census Bureau. 42.2 percent of Ithaca’s population is not in the labor force. Some 53.4 percent of city workers list themselves as being in a management, business, science or arts with education, health care and social assistance industries employing nearly 56 percent of workers. Accommodation and food service occupations hire another 10 percent while 6.5 percent work in retail.
Although the median City of Ithaca household annual income is $30,019 ($40,399 for men; $38,086 for women), $19.4 percent of city workers earn less than $10,000. The government defines income as among 18 revenue streams, including earnings, unemployment and workers compensation, social security, public assistance and many other factors. Basic wage slaves are registered under the earnings category. In that case, the median earnings for workers in the city is $8,339, according to the Census Bureau.
Perhaps most striking when it comes to poverty in Ithaca is that 100 percent of single mothers with children under the age of 5 live below the federal poverty level. Let me repeat that: every single mother in the city who has children under the age of 5 falls below the poverty line, according to the government figures.
Overall, 40.7 percent of city residents fell below the poverty level, according to the 2010 Census numbers. For unrelated people aged 15 or older, the percentage grew to 58.4 percent. For families, the number living under the poverty line was 9.5 percent. Just 3.5 percent of married couples in Ithaca dropped below the poverty line during 2008-2010, according to the government.
The mid-1970s was the last time there was any measurable housing construction in the city. As a result, finding an empty home or apartment in the area can be like looking for a needle in a haystack — particularly around September when students arrive. Today, a half-dozen projects are underway, although its unclear how much the new units (mostly priced for students) will help the housing crunch facing year-round residents. A remarkable 95.1 percent of the housing in Ithaca is occupied, with just 1.7 percent of the rental units available. Even fewer — 0.7 percent — homes are either unsold or sold but vacant. With such housing shortages, no wonder most single-family homes in Ithaca are quickly converted into multiple-unit dwellings and lines of students form outside rental agencies take on the appearance of an Apple event.
More than half of the current housing in the city of Ithaca was built in 1939 or earlier, according to the census. Of that, 73.6 percent is devoted to rental units, according to the Census Bureau. More than 80 percent of people living in Ithaca moved here after 2001. Indeed, 69 percent of residents have lived in Ithaca since 2005, at the latest.
Renters pay much more per month than the few homeowners in Ithaca. According to the government, the median monthly rent is $844, with many paying at least $1,000.
These are the actual issues facing Ithaca. These are also the issues the Independent will explore in depth as we move beyond the news’ role as simple town crier to a source of integrated, in-depth navigator of local, state and national information. Our focus is not on the institutions of state, but how their decisions impact the lives of ordinary working stiffs. Join us on the journey.