The Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission Report was released today. It includes the following piece on poor college students:
An important caveat needs to be registered here. As in other towns and cities with a large college presence, estimates of the poverty rate are liable to be inflated by undergraduates who are counted as poor. Census procedure is to count all college students as residing in the location where they spend most nights—that is, where they go to college, not their family hometown. College students who live on-campus are not included in calculation of poverty status. However, college students who live off campus are counted in calculations of poverty status.
In Richmond, there are an estimated 16,064 undergraduates living off campus who are included in the city‘s poverty estimates; of these, 53.1% are counted as living in poverty (American Community Survey 2006-10, Table B-14006). Put another way, of the estimated 48,452 impoverished Richmonders (2006-10 estimate), 8,536 are college undergraduates. It is reasonable to draw a distinction between these students and the rest of Richmond‘s poverty population. Generally speaking, we can assume the basic material needs of college students are adequately met, and we can assume that most undergraduates who complete their degrees successfully will be in position to earn incomes taking them above the poverty level. If we remove college students from the equation, the estimate of the overall citywide poverty level falls from 25.3% to 22.7%.
In short, the presence in particular of large numbers of VCU students living off campus inflates the overall citywide poverty estimate by about ten percent. Note however that the adjusted (non- college student) poverty rate is still exceptionally high. Moreover, as noted below, most neighborhoods in Richmond with a high official poverty rate do not consist substantially (if at all) of college students. Some neighborhoods in the downtown area, however, are classified as high poverty by the Census primarily because of the presence of college students. Five of the eighteen tracts citywide with a poverty rate above 35% consist primarily of college students. These neighborhoods are noted in italics in Appendix E. Being aware of the impact of college students on the overall poverty rate is helpful not only to a geographic analysis of poverty in the city, but also to helping policymakers focus attention on those neighborhoods of highest permanent need: low-income neighborhoods consisting of few or even zero college students where there is long-term embedded poverty.