Quincy is changing, but poverty hangs on
Poverty is not very visible among Quincy’s newly built apartments and condominiums and increasingly expensive single-family homes.
Yet slightly over 10 percent of the city’s residents live at or below the federal poverty level, according to a report commissioned by a statewide organization that is concerned about proposed cuts to federal antipoverty programs.
The Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP) is hosting forums around the state to talk about the report, and recently held one in Quincy.
“In the past several decades, Quincy — and the surrounding region — has seen a marked increase in income inequality, with both increasing wealth and increasing poverty,” said Beth Ann Strollo, chief executive officer of Quincy Community Action Programs.
Poverty levels were even higher in other Greater Boston cities cited in the study, “Obstacles on the Road to Opportunity: Finding a Way Forward,” conducted by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
South of Boston, Brockton’s poverty level stood at 18 percent, according to data analyzed from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey. To the west, Framingham had a rate of 11 percent.
Nine cities north of Boston had poverty levels that exceeded 10 percent: Chelsea (19 percent), Everett (15 percent), Lawrence (26 percent), Lowell (22 percent), Lynn (20 percent), Malden (15 percent), Revere (13 percent), Salem (15 percent), and Somerville (13 percent).
MASSCAP commissioned the study to gauge the effectiveness of antipoverty programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, fuel assistance, and food stamps.
The report concluded that the programs reduce the number of people living in poverty in Massachusetts by almost half, and the poverty rate among children by more than half.
The report will be used as a lobbying tool against proposals to cut federal spending on programs that support low-income individuals and families.
“We can’t be silent in the face of these threats,” said Joe Diamond, MASSCAP’s executive director.
Quincy Community Action Programs, or QCAP, has a core service area of Quincy, Milton, Weymouth, and Braintree, though it delivers certain programs to a much larger area.
Even though some of the 21,000 people the organization serves annually earn $15 an hour, it’s not enough to cover childcare, housing, and food without some kind of assistance, Strollo said.
“That’s part of the income inequality story here in an area like ours, where the prices of housing in Quincy have risen tremendously in the last 10 years,” Strollo said.
The poverty rate in Quincy is more than double the rate in Milton, the wealthiest town in QCAP’s service area.
To calculate the poverty rate, the report used the five-year estimate from pooled 2012-16 data from the US Census Bureau American Community Survey. The poverty level for 2017 is $11,760 for individuals, or $24,900 for families.
Income inequality in the Quincy area is profound, and people who are eligible for vouchers for childcare and housing stay on waiting lists for years, Strollo said.
QCAP delivers food, housing assistance, and fuel assistance programs, and helps people figure out a career path.
Proposed budget cuts, and the effect of recently passed tax cuts on safety net programs, has Strollo and her colleagues concerned.
“I think it was half the picture,” Tim Cahill, president and executive director of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce, said of MASSCAP’s report. Cahill, whose organization hosted a discussion on the findings, said he wasn’t being dismissive of it, but said many of his member businesses say they cannot find enough employees.
“The training, the skill set of people who are working and not getting by in this economy needs to be improved,” Cahill said. “That’s a problem everywhere.”
Though Quincy remains blue-collar in parts, there are more professionals moving in, drawn to the Red Line, which runs through the city.
“Quincy is changing, but we can’t afford to leave people behind,” he said.