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Buffalo is a city of nationwide distinction.

It’s part of the history of the Erie Canal. Some of the greatest creations of nationally known architect Frank Lloyd Wright are located here. And it is has strong connections to the Underground Railroad, the abolition of slavery and civil rights movements.

But Buffalo recently earned another national distinction, and it’s nothing to be proud of.

Almost half of Buffalo’s children live in impoverished households, according to a report issued this week by the National Center for Children Living in Poverty.

The report, which was based on one-year census data for 2011, ranked 25 cities with populations of more than 250,000 people with the highest percentages of children living in poverty.

Buffalo came in third with 46.8 percent. The two cities that topped the list are the Rust Belt communities of Detroit with 57.3 and Cleveland with 53.9.

And that’s no coincidence, researchers said.

Declining populations, the exodus or closure of large-scale industrial companies and high unemployment rates all correspond directly with poverty rates.

“It’s kind of a pattern we see in the data ... top cities that have this huge decline in well-paying jobs in the manufacturing industries, which used to be so strong in these cities,” said Curtis Skinner, director of family economic security at the National Center.

“In cities like Buffalo, you also have high unemployment rates,” he added. “Unemployment rates move right with poverty rates.”

Poverty issues go beyond income, and poor children lag behind their peers in many ways, experts said.

For instance, they are less healthy, trail in emotional and intellectual development and are less likely to graduate from high school, according the Children’s Defense Fund website.

Statistics provided by the Partnership for the Public Good indicate that of the Erie County residents receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, 78 percent were in Buffalo. And more than 77 percent of Buffalo Public Schools children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The partnership has issued various studies and policy briefs on the issue, including a report on Buffalo’s low-income neighborhoods, one that focused on concentrated poverty and public education and another that addressed poverty-level work.

Officials there say growth in low-wage jobs is the biggest structural problem related to poverty.

“We have 120,000 jobs in this region that pay below the poverty level, and those jobs are not going away,” said Lou Jean Fleron, co-director of the Partnership.

“How long can people who can’t afford a car be willing to take a bus at 4 o’clock in the morning and go to a job that pays them something that still leaves them eligible for food stamps?” she said.

The numbers put out by the National Center are “very consistent with what we’re seeing in Head Start,” said L. Nathan Hare, chief executive officer of the Community Action Organization of Erie County.

CAO runs 15 Head Start and Early Head Start programs throughout the county for children in families below the federal poverty level. Services include housing, employment, mental health, family development, chemical dependency, health and youth and senior services.

One way to combat poverty is to focus on single mothers – who often are the heads of impoverished households – and their relationships with the fathers of their children, Hare said.

“This is going to sound harsh, but I believe ... men should be accountably pulled into the life system of their kids, independent of whether or not the woman and you still get along,” he said.

If the father is involved in the child’s life every day and shares some of the burden, the mother may be able to count on him for other responsibilities, like providing day care and showing up at school to talk to teachers, if necessary, Hare said.

“If he’s in the game, she doesn’t have to keep leaving work” to take care of those things, he said. “That means she can take on jobs that require more responsibility and pay more. That gives her a much more solid foundation for her to build her economic structure around.”

News staff reporter Mark Sommer contributed to this report. email: