New report ties poverty to immigration in county
For John Moeser, senior fellow at the University of Richmond’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement and professor emeritus of urban studies and planning at Virginia Commonwealth University, poverty and its effects on the Richmond region have been his life’s work.
Earlier this year, Moeser and three other researchers studied the connection between poverty and race using U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000, 2010 and 2015. Their report “Unpacking the Census” explains how poverty has changed in Central Virginia in recent years. (To read the report, click here.)
The researchers’ findings show that poverty continues to grow in the counties surrounding Richmond, and in Chesterfield the change is largely fueled by growth in its Hispanic immigrant population. The region’s Hispanic/ Latino poverty rate is growing the fastest of any group, and 44 percent of the region’s Hispanic population lives in Chesterfield, the most of any locality.
To unpack the report’s findings, the Observer sat down with Moeser and fellow researcher Taylor Holden – GIS technician for the spatial analysis lab – at the University of Richmond’s campus.
Observer: This report focuses not just on poverty, but also on race and immigration. Why is that?
Moeser: It may be that immigration was so much in the news, and we both were aware when we presented our poverty data [that] poverty really hits immigrant communities very hard. We had some of that data anyway, but we decided to take a [more in-depth look], and it has been very, very interesting.
Holden: We came up with the idea of including the immigration stuff because of a lot of the political things that are going on, and how people talk about immigration but don’t really understand it. From doing [presentations about poverty] for the last couple of years, we always got lots of questions about the Latino community – where do they live, how is this affecting them differently, [etc.].
Observer: So, what should be the takeaway from the report?
Moeser: Chesterfield officials and citizens can no longer talk about [poverty as if it’s a problem only] in eastern Chesterfield. Yes, that’s there, and poverty is high, but it’s moving into the northern central part of Chesterfield. … When we’ve taken [our presentations to Chesterfield], citizens are really shocked at how close they live to schools with large numbers of children with free and reduced lunch, which is … the best indicator for poverty.
Holden: Digging into the data side a little bit, putting some numbers to that, if you look at the total population living in poverty from 2000 to 2015, within Chesterfield, you jumped from 4.5 percent to 7.4 percent, which is a pretty substantial jump. But if you look at the absolute numbers, it’s an over 100 percent increase, so the number of people living in poverty has doubled in the last 15 years.
Moeser: And keep in mind that [to get this kind of] data, the only source is the [U.S.] Census Bureau. … Yet, even the Census data are not accurate, and the first people who would say that are the analysts in Washington working for the U.S. Census Bureau.
What is happening [is] there’s this huge undercount. Undocumented residents don’t want anything having to do with the federal government, and they don’t make the distinction between [Immigration and Customs Enforcement and] the Census Bureau – it’s just the U.S. government.
By the way, this is true in the African-American community too. Historically, there’s [been] a huge undercount in the African-American community, but surely there is in the Latino community.
Holden: This is not just a problem in Richmond. This is a problem throughout the United States.
Observer: What is bringing such a huge wave of Latinos to Chesterfield?
Moeser: Right now, immigration from Mexico is greater [than from any other country]. Long ago, families used to come looking for work, but over time [that’s changed, and] the biggest driver for immigrants right now is seeking safety. …
And it’s gangs [in Central America]. Children are fearful for their lives. The number of killings, particularly how these gangs prey on young girls … parents are terrified. They want to get them away and keep them from being murdered.
Observer: Any final thoughts about your findings?
Moeser: Chesterfield County residents need to know, there is a crisis [of poverty in Chesterfield].
PTSD is very common among school children, African-American children who attend schools in Richmond, not much different [from] what soldiers experience. Just given what I learned about how mental illness is popping up [in poor communities], they’re traumatized, but they don’t have [access to] the medical personnel to address it, and that’s what Chesterfield County needs to know.