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New report: Substantial spike in poverty in Greater Richmond over past 15 years

The Greater Richmond area’s poverty rate grew by a steep 75% between 2000 and 2014, a United Way report finds.

RVAHub Staff



The number of people living in poverty in the 11 jurisdictions that comprise Greater Richmond grew to 138,720 from 2000 to 2014, an increase of 75 percent over the past decade and a half, according to a new report commissioned by the United Way.

During that same period, the number of people with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level – what many consider to be the true threshold for economic wellbeing – jumped by more than 90,000 to 293,360, or 27.2 percent of the Richmond region’s population.

The findings were part of a comprehensive report released today by the United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, the organization’s 2016 “Indicators of Community Strength,” a broad compendium of metrics designed to assess the health and prosperity of the Richmond and Petersburg region.

The “Indicators of Community Strength” report focuses on six specific categories that closely align with United Way’s community impact work:  Community Overview, Financial Stability, Child Health and Wellbeing, Education, Adult Health and Wellbeing, and Violence and Trauma.  The data in the report are the most currently available covering the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, Powhatan and the cities of Colonial Heights, Petersburg and Richmond.

The details of the report are broken down as follows:

Poverty & Income

  • Poverty throughout the region grew from 79,258 people (8.5% of the total population) in 2000 to 138,720 (12.6% of the total) in 2014.  The increase represents a 75 percent jump.
  • Similarly, the percentage of the population with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level rose from 22.2% of the total (203,162) in 2000 to 27.2% (293,360) in 2014 – a 46% increase.
  • The number of children living in poverty has grown from 27,665 (11.9%) in 2000 to 44,841 (18.1%) in 2014.
  • In the city of Richmond, 43.1% of children five years old or younger live below the poverty line; in Petersburg, the number is 51.6%.
  • 7.3% of the region’s older adults – those 65-74 years old, who represent the fastest-growing segment of the population – live below the poverty line, while one in four (25.1%) live below the 200 percent poverty level.
  • Those living in poverty in the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico more than doubled from 2000 to 2014 – up 110% from 32,478 to 68,176.
  • As a comparison, the total number of people living in poverty in the cities of Richmond, Petersburg and Colonial Heights was 61,686 in 2014 – a jump of 50% over the past 15 years.


  • Since 2010, the unemployment rate in the Richmond region has steadily decreased from 7.6% to 4.5%.


  • Almost half (48.3%) the residents of the region pay at least 30% of their monthly income on housing, straining their capacity to pay for other basic needs such as food, healthcare and child care.
  • A year-over-year snapshot of homelessness between January 2015 and January 2016 found a slight dip in the number of homeless people in the region – from 818 to 762.

“The statistics in these categories related to financial wellbeing amplify one of the region’s most critical challenges – creating an economy that leads to sustained prosperity for everyone,” Taylor said.  “If we are to reverse these trend lines, we must build strong foundations for success for everyone.  We know the most effective way to do that is through our shared commitment to one another.”


  • One in seven young children in the Richmond and Petersburg region start school without the basic literacy skills needed for kindergarten.
  • While the percent of students in the region passing 3rdgrade Reading SOLs increased from 62.5% in 2002 to 76.4% in 2016, the percentage of 5th graders who passed the Reading SOLs decreased from 92.4% in 2012 to 80.7% in 2016.
  • The percent of adults with a high school diploma edged up, rising from 82.3% in 2000 to 88.0% in 2014.  Similarly, the region’s on-time graduation rate jumped from 81.7% for the class of 2009 to 89.6% for the class of 2015.


  • The teen pregnancy rate has dropped from 16.3% in 2000 to 5.3% in 2014.
  • Over that time, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico and Petersburg have seen decreases exceeding 70%.
  • There also has been a decline in birth to mothers with less than a 12th-grade education – from 14.9% to 10.1%.
  • A total of 15,210 children in the Richmond region in 2014 lacked health insurance.
  • Charles City County had the highest percentage of children without health insurance (10%) while Hanover County had the lowest (4.8%).

Older Adults

  • One in four older adults – the region’s fast-growing demographic group – live at or below the 200% poverty threshold.
  • One in three older adults have a disability, while 106,343 do not have health insurance (2014)

“Moving forward, the quality of life of our community will rest on our collective capacity to address two critical pillars,” Taylor said.  “First, we must raise the level of prosperity for all our citizens, and United Way has programs in place that help people build financial stability.  Second, we understand how very critical it is for everyone in our community to have supportive relationships, which are essential for life-long well-being and better health, for individuals and for the community. Our support for our agency partners in helping to instill the resilience that leads to healing and well-being.”

Federal poverty rates are based on the following 2015 income levels:

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“This year’s ‘Indicators’ report contains some encouraging findings,” said James Taylor, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg. “We have a relatively low unemployment rate, for example, and there has been a significant reduction in teen pregnancies as well continuing incremental increases in high school graduation rates.  Still, the good news must be reconciled by the many abiding challenges that we face, from the increasing stratification of wealth across our region – leading to feelings of alienation among many people – to the need for a greater commitment to workforce development and training.  Creating economic prosperity for the entire community is built one household at a time.”

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