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MAYVILLE – A profile of poverty in Chautauqua County was presented Friday to a group of agency representatives and community members at Chautauqua Suites.

Roberta Keller, executive director of Chautauqua Opportunities Inc., welcomed the group of about 100, including many representing various nonprofit, government and private agencies that serve economically disadvantaged residents of the county.

The event reminded attendees of the start of the “War on Poverty” in 1964.  

An estimated 20 percent of the county’s residents live in poverty, compared with 15 percent nationwide and statewide.

About 25,000 of the residents of the county are considered low- income. The median income in the county is $30,167.

The income guideline for a single person living alone in the county is $11,490; for a family of four it is $23,550.  

The Chautauqua Opportunities statistics also noted that the average hourly wage in the county is $12.90.

“Very few of the poor are sitting home waiting for a check. They are working two and three jobs, and are still unable to pay their taxes,” Keller said.

Statistics presented to the group showed that 54 percent of the children in the county qualify for free or reduced-price lunches in school.

Keller said one of the goals of Chautauqua Opportunities is to revisit the services in the county.

She said the agency is striving to build “learning communities” where people can become educated about goals and positive changes, and have opportunities to become educated.

Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan, a former member of the board of directors of Chautauqua Opportunities, said workforce development is one of his goals as county executive. He said he believes that public and private partnerships will help the county achieve goals of developing the workforce.

We need the tools, the skills and the motivation and a healthy community,” he said.  

“The ‘Thrive Initiative’ that we’re working on is a collaborative effort,” Horrigan said. He said education, private business, government and nonprofit agencies are working together to try to establish new programs for low-income people.

“Changing the level of poverty in Chautauqua County is at the top of my list,” the county executive said.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, said 44 percent of the children and 29 percent of the adults in Jamestown are living in poverty.

“I have introduced legislation to tie welfare benefits to education,” he said, noting that the purpose is to encourage young people to graduate from high school or participate in an equivalency program.

He said he also is looking at trying to tie school attendance to welfare benefits.

“You can’t teach a student who is not there,” he said. He said that people who drop out of high school cost New York State an average of $200,000 in taxpayer benefits over their lifetime.

A question and comment session followed the presentations.