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Brookings Institution

Brookings Institution


We know Rochester has a high poverty rate. But how much money do the rest of the city’s residents earn?

The Brookings Institution ranks Rochester 475th among U.S. cities on equal distribution. Nearly two-thirds of Rochester households have incomes of $41,109 or less. That compares to 40 percent in the United States.

Rochester comes close to the national rate of households earning between $41,110 and $65,952. The middle income bracket makes up 20 percent in the country and 18.6 percent in Rochester.

Rochester comes up way short on households earning more than $65,952 or more. Nationally, they make up 40 percent of households. In Rochester, they make up 19 percent of households.

What does this tell us? The City of Rochester doesn’t have a large middle class. It also doesn’t have many wealthy people. It’s got a sizable chunk of households – 25 percent –  that earn between $21,433 and $41,109. Many of these households likely have lower-wage workers.

Income distribution has implications for housing, schools, shopping, transportation and more.


Links of the Day:


– A new contract makes Buffalo cops live in city for 7 years.

– Goodbye, Urban Indoor Mall. Hello, Downtown Outlet Center!

– Once seniors are too old to drive, our transportation system totally fails them.

– The aspirational RSVP: Saying you’ll attend when you don’t plan on it.


32 Responses to Rochester’s Small Middle Class

  1. The middle class has enough freedom to leave the city if they want to raise families. And most middle class people are looking to raise a family. The “brain drain” they prattle on happens loooong before the end of high school.

  2. June 14, 2015 at 7:44 pm Bret Dangelmaier responds:

    There is not one compelling reason to live within the city limits any longer. Those reasons vanished long ago.

  3. June 14, 2015 at 8:07 pm Bob Lewis responds:

    My family is definitely in the middle class. We lived in the city until our kids started to approach school age. At that time we left the city in search of a better school district for our kids. While we liked living in the city, it would have been unfair to our kids to send them to RCSD when we could simply move a few miles out of town and access a significantly better environment for our kids to attend school. I wonder how many other people have the same story.

    • June 14, 2015 at 10:32 pm Donald Murphy responds:

      As a teacher in the RCSD and an inner city resident for over 25 years, I applaud your decision. You made the correct decision for your child both in terms of safety and achievement. The RCSd is a hopeless, unsafe, terminal mess beyond repair. Those of us dedicated to the profession who refuse to quit do so with the knowledge that all we are doing is fighting a losing battle for the children forced to remain.

      • I applaud your effort, period. Thank you for recognizing the few and giving them a chance. You are making a difference. Never, never give up or in to those who choose to give in to the urban plight. Oorah!

  4. June 14, 2015 at 10:54 pm Donald Murphy responds:

    I’m middle class and I’ve kept my house (which I bought and rehabbed 33 years ago) in the city as a fallback residence for times when my schedule or the weather make it more convenient not to travel. I loved this house and the Public market neighborhood, was neighborhood president for years, served on many city boards, and raised my family here. It always had the benefit of location and, due to the relative lack of value of city housing, low taxes. This in turn allowed me to use the money saved in taxes to pay tuition at a Catholic school where I knew my daughter would be safe and receive a distraction free education taught by actual licensed teachers. All of her friends’ families moved out of the city before she was in Middle School for all the reasons mentioned. She’s graduated from college and thank God she doesn;t have to spend any more time in the city. Three murders within three blocks in the last three weeks. A drive by that riddled the house across the street (and the next door neighbor’s house) with bullets, Six hour waits for police responses to quality of life complaints, open air drug sales a block from the Public Market,, prostitutes on Goodman street, gunshots heard nightly. And yet people still wonder why the middle class or anyone with the means to afford to move leave the city? Did I mention the daylight home invasion kitty corner to my house? How about the pointless vandalism of smashed car windows and tail lights? Don’t you love RAP music at 4:00AM when the neighbors return home from partying (what do they care, they don’t have to get up to go to work? How about the Rochester tradition of dirty diaper removal out the car window? When my wife retires this house will be dumped for what I can get for it on the run. I expect that unless there is a major push to drive out crime and change the entrenched culture, the middle class in Rochester will be a distant memory in the very near future.

    • June 15, 2015 at 8:12 am rochester_veteran responds:

      I know exactly what you wrote of, Donald Murphy. I don’t miss any of that! We got fed up and moved to the suburbs in 1995 to get our kids in a better and safe living environment and good schools. We got to the point of actually dreading summer because of how loud it would get at night (know very well of those gun shots in the night)! Then there was the daily deposits of fast food trash thrown on the front lawn. There was a corner store up the street and it could be easily found by following the trail of litter. People would show up at our door late at night asking for money for “baby medicine”. We became targets because we fixed up our house and kept our yard up and simply being white. People thought we had money but back then, but we were in the $21,433 and $41,109 with me working two jobs struggling to make ends meet but that left my wife home alone with our kids for 17 hours a day with all the crap going on in the neighborhood and it started getting to her. I had to get them out of there and finally did in 1995.

  5. I think the others have hit the nail on the head. Those that can afford to often leave when they have school aged children. It’s hard for the middle class to afford private school tuition, so it’s easier to move. If the schools were better Rochester’s middle class would soar.

  6. June 15, 2015 at 7:34 am Bill K. responds:

    There’s a bit of a chicken and egg issue when it comes to the schools and economic segregation. There is an overwhelming body of evidence that concentrated poverty is not compatible with educational achievement. That doesn’t mean that RCSD can’t do better or isn’t badly mismanaged, but it does mean that even if you were to start from scratch with the best of everything you still wouldn’t see results that would attract the middle class back to the city in droves. I’m extremely critical of RCSD, but the state of city schools is a symptom of middle class flight as much as it a cause.

    • June 15, 2015 at 3:24 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      If everyone returned to city schools, you’d have suburban schools in the city.

      • June 15, 2015 at 3:39 pm rochester_veteran responds:

        That’s not going to happen because too many of us former city dwellers had bad experiences in the neighborhoods we used to live in. When my daughter still lived in Corn Hill, I was certainly tempted to give city living a try, but my wife would have nothing to do with it, she has a long memory and remembers how miserable we were right before we moved.

      • June 15, 2015 at 3:50 pm Bret Dangelmaier responds:

        “…you’d have suburban schools in the city.”

        That just sounds like a politician ‘s soundbite – lacking in substance, logic and factual basis.

      • June 15, 2015 at 4:01 pm Monkeytoe responds:

        “If everyone returned to city schools, you’d have suburban schools in the city.”

        that’s not accurate. the city school kids would still have the same problems they currently have – a community that has the wrong values, that de-values education, responsibility, accountability, and respect for authority.

        Which means that the schools would still be plagued by violence and disruption.

        the end result would be lower educational outcomes for many suburban students with a slight increase in the education outcome for a few city students.

        This believe that just putting city kids in schools with suburban kids will significantly raise city kid’s educational outcomes without affecting suburban kids outcomes is delusional.

        the issue isn’t poor kids going to school with more affluent kids – the issue is what values does the community teach and uphold. People that believe simply being around “suburban kids” will change City student attitudes/behavior or mixing up cause and effect. Suburban schools are not better because the parents have more money. they are better because the parents have and teach certain values to their kids and uphold those values, which makes the students more disciplined and better behaved in class, which makes them pay attention and listen to their teachers, which makes them study harder, which makes the school district better.

        • Bingo! Right on.

        • June 15, 2015 at 4:09 pm Monkeytoe responds:

          Put another way – there have been plenty of poor areas in the country and the world that have had far, far better outcomes than RCSD. It isn’t because they are poor that the schools are troubled, but because of the values the community teaches / upholds.

          We are not allowed to ever discuss those issues though, because to do so is considered racist. However, it is not a race issue, it is a community issue – there are black, white, and latino poor people in inner cities. The value problems are:

          – idolizing “thug” culture;
          – accepting, even encouraging, out-of-wedlock childbirth, often with a single mother having children from different fathers;
          – same issue in reverse – accepting/encouraging men to have multiple out-of-wedlock children with multiple different women;
          – accepting lifetime gov’t dependency as normal or acceptable;
          – encouraging everyone to NOT cooperate with police (“no snitching”)
          – disdain for authority – whether it be police or teachers;
          – parents backing children over school authorities;
          – believing it is “acting white” to study or work hard in school;
          – an entitlement mentality;

          this is only a small list of the warped values of the inner-city community that makes it impossible for children in the schools to get a quality education. This is a fundamental structural problem within the community and until it is changed, everything else is just re-arranging deck chairs.

          • And finally,….are you aware that the RCSD students can, upon graduation, attend local colleges/universities as a “free ride”? What more of an incentive do you need, a $200,000.00 to $300,00.00 gift. How many takers were there? Look it up, not many. I don’t recall anyone in the county system getting that.

          • Sure Monkeytoe, but if you had only stayed in the city none of those issues would have emerged. Everything would have been fine. In other words by leaving the city you created a void and that void was filled with your list of lost “values”. What am I saying?!

      • June 15, 2015 at 7:31 pm Bill K. responds:

        I don’t think that’s quite true. I’m not going to join in the chorus of critics here that wants to deny the overwhelming amount of evidence concerning poverty and educational achievement, but if middle class families returned I don’t think you’d have the same results you do in suburban schools. You’d still have the existing population with all its challenges and you’d still have the same management and policy issues (although you would definitely see some changes quickly if there were more middle class families with more political clout). My father worked for a district that had a mixed population and their results were somewhere between the Big 5 and our local suburban districts and I strongly believe that is what you would end up with.

        • June 15, 2015 at 9:14 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

          40% poverty is the threshold for schools. Above that, and results go down. Economic integration is important.

        • June 16, 2015 at 10:04 am Monkeytoe responds:


          So what, you support one big district and busing suburban kids into City schools?

          You are missing cause and effect. Sure, when you have more than 40% below the “poverty level”, results do down. But, is that a result of the poverty, or of the values that lead to those family’s poverty?

          You want to believe that it is solely the poverty or even mostly the poverty. That is simply not true and not proven by any study. correlation is not causation. that people whose value systems lead to less violence, less single parenthood, less criminal activity, more respect for authority, more discipline, a good work ethic have children that do well in school is not a mystery. that people who share none of those values have children that share none of those values is not a mystery. Placing the two sets of kids together doesn’t change the kids. It merely averages out the outcomes.

          So yeah, if you put suburban kids in City schools, City schools would have a higher average graduation rate. But, the same kids failing now, disrupting classes now, engaging in violence now would be doing the same when the populations are mixed. All you are doing by mixing the population is hiding the bad results by averaging in good results.

          Until you change the community value system that leads to the RCSD results, you will not change those students. A kid failing today, or not attending school most days today, will not suddenly start to flourish because Timmy from Fairport is now in his school. That’s absurd.

          the schools, City Gov’t, County Gov’t cannot overcome the values taught these kids in their homes and neighborhoods. Ignoring that is idiocy.

          • June 16, 2015 at 2:55 pm Bill K. responds:

            As I said I don’t agree with Rachel, but you are ignoring a lot of studies that show the effects of concentrated poverty on educational results as well as the many rigorous studies showing the impact of environment on success –


            Plus as someone who’s both followed the research and watched members of my family teach in different environments first hand mixing the population does far more than hiding bad results. It allows teachers to provide more individualized attention when it’s only 1/4 of the class with intense special needs instead of nearly all. It changes the environment. It means that parents have more power to push back against various stupid ideas. And it exposes young kids to different values to emulate. Ignoring that is idiocy.

          • June 16, 2015 at 3:46 pm Monkeytoe responds:

            Bill K,

            Those studies show correlation, not effect. Those studies correlate poverty with doing poorly in school. I am not denying that. I am saying that poverty is not the cause of doing poorly in school, but the result of values, attitudes, etc. that lead to the poverty in the first instance. In other words, there are poor people who do fine, even excel in school. Because despite being poor, they have certain values, including valuing education, valuing hard work, respecting authority, discipline, etc.

            there are plenty of areas where there is poverty but education outcomes are not as bad as Rochester, and plenty of eras in the U.S. where there was bad poverty but fine education.

            Claiming that the poverty CAUSES the disruptions in school, the violence in school, the failure to attend class, the failure to respect teachers, etc., is placing cause and effect exactly backward. the poverty did not cause those attitudes and values – the attitudes and values lead to or reinforce the poverty.

            Thus, simply plopping a middle class student next to a person with the above attitudes will not result in a better educational outcome.

    • Rachel: You haven’t lived long enough and experienced living in the city during 1960. There was once a school called Edison Technical and Industrial High School. It was the GEM of the RCSD, period. High graduation rate and post high school success in jobs and the furthering of advanced education. It was so good that it was attended by students from well beyond the city limits. It was located on Clifford Ave. That school was systematically destroyed over the years and is now no better than the rest of the RCSD. Educational equality at its finest,…bringing down a great school to the level of the others. The good citizen has created the bad citizen by leaving the city and if we could only just stir the educational pot to include all students county wide, it would simply revert to all students graduating with honors. You can’t make this stuff up!

      I have been at this graduation rate issue for years now. Rachel, I have tried to get you to look at an educational enhancement that has been developed over those voluntary years. You don’t want to hear it because it might make sense and you may have to change some of your thinking and opinion on the subject of education and poverty. In the mean time, I’ll be looking for the next statistical drama. One with no solution offered, just the complaint.

  7. Another statistical report on the obvious. Rachel,…we are all aware of Rochester and its problems. The question is how do you fix it, how do you turn this city in crisis around. Back to education!!! This is the “root cause” of most of the problems, period. We insist on educating the urban youth with the same boring academic approach, year after year and expect different results. We need relevant education that will keep kids interested in staying in school, butts in seats and a clear pathway to a career/profession. You need to inject the “cool factor” into educating. THAT is how you turn this around. Ingenuity is what’s needed.

    To many people are making a very good living off the poverty issue. They have no interest in solving the education and poverty crisis. That would place them in a position of having to get a real job. They talk the talk but cannot or will not walk the walk.

    Some weeks ago we had this mega committee established, which was, once and for all, going to tackle and eliminate poverty,….care to check the progress? Their method of solving that problem is to create another “pot” in which one can donate money. Next year we will need two “pots”, etc.

    I have made a three year (to date) effort to introduce a program that will enhance the current blah academic approach to educating in the urban schools. They will not listen to suggestions, they know it all and yet the failing schools just keep failing. Decades of this incompetence, DECADES! Do I sound angry? You bet I am. Rachel,…if you really want to make this a better community, if you really want to tackle the poverty issue, if you really want to solve the educational crisis,…change your journalistic message from statistical drama to a solution driven journalism.

    • June 15, 2015 at 9:08 pm Bret Dangelmaier responds:

      She will never respond to anything like what you’ve written. She doesn’t know how to approach an issue where she is even remotely criticized. Instead, she will ignore it, argue in a way where she can’t be wrong, or just regurgitate a data point that is not relevant. I would love to see her admit she is wrong or at least acknowledge that a contrary point of view has been a learning lesson for her. “Oh, I didn’t know that, thus you may be right.” will never be seen coming from her. Once it starts to, she will be able to be taken more seriously. ((Yeah, I guess that’s a little harsh–but that has been my experience so far))

  8. June 15, 2015 at 12:44 pm Adrian Martin responds:

    I’d like to see that data for Monroe County and compare it to Rochester

  9. OK, Not much of a surprise. All one has to do is drive around the city during the day. How many people do you see hanging out? How many people do you see sitting on their porch doing nothing? Welfare has created a culture of dependence. It will not change. Poverty is big business. City government DEPENDS on poverty for their jobs and personal wealth. So what can be done? The MEDIA, the providers of information, need to be doing a better job. There needs to be a stigma attached to irresponsible behavior. I totally agree with the reference to Edison Tech of years ago. This was a school that taught TRADES. Just think of all the older homes in the city that need improvements. Why can’t they be done by the graduates of Edison? The answer is because the trades are NOT taught anymore. Why? I personally believe the city is doomed. The poverty will continue. The RCSD will continue to fail. City Hall and its relatives / supporters will continue to receive high wages, great benefits, tremendous pensions. Non-profits will also continue to flourish.

  10. June 16, 2015 at 3:56 pm Monkeytoe responds:

    “Plus as someone who’s both followed the research and watched members of my family teach in different environments first hand mixing the population does far more than hiding bad results. It allows teachers to provide more individualized attention when it’s only 1/4 of the class with intense special needs instead of nearly all. It changes the environment. It means that parents have more power to push back against various stupid ideas. And it exposes young kids to different values to emulate. Ignoring that is idiocy.”

    Even assuming what you say is true – which is a huge hurdle – you are advocating reducing the suburban child’s education so that the teacher can focus more time on those with “special needs” (read, behavioral problems caused by their community’s value system, which everyone refuses to openly discuss or address). Plus, the teacher must dumb down the curriculum to allow those same “special needs” students to keep up in class. thus reducing the value of education for the suburban kids.

    And, yes, it does simply average out. the kids from the bad environment don’t suddenly become steller students because they are sitting next to timmy from Fairport. No study support this idea.

    the NY Times article describes “good results” ONLY when a poor child is moved to a more affluent neighborhood when a toddler. I wouldn’t deny that would work. But, claiming that simply combining suburban students with city students is not even in the same universe of ideas.

    In that study, when the poor toddler moved, he moved to a different community with different values – the values I’m talking about – and he learned them from birth, and never learned the inner-city values I am decrying. Indeed, the author admits that for non-toddler age children, the results of simply moving the families to more affluent neighborhoods was “disappointing”. Which proves my point.

    If you move one poor kid at a very young age to a more affluent neighborhood, yes, he has a much better chance to do well in school.

    But, if you move 200 of these kids at 12 years old to the same suburban school – those kids will have roughly the same outcome as they would have had if you left them in the City schools. the kids from families that teach and espouse the values I’m talking about will do well and the kids from families that buy into the communities dominant value-system will continue to fail.

    It is again cause and affect that these studies fail to grasp.

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