COMPASS II-2.0 Social Issues Key Findings

COMPASS II-2.0 LogoPoverty

In 2009, 64% of residents and 77% of key informants viewed poverty as a critical problem in their community. Utilizing the federal poverty guidelines, Tompkins County has a poverty rate of 17.6%; however, college students artificially inflate this rate. As a result, the Tompkins County Planning Department had a special tabulation of 2000 Census data run to exclude students which resulted in a 9.0% poverty rate. The U.S. Census Bureau 2009 poverty and income data show that the national poverty rate increased from 13.2% in 2008 to 14.3% in 2009, the highest rate since 1994. When unemployment skyrockets and job seekers cannot find work, incomes fall and poverty rises.

Poverty Statistics
Percent of Tompkins County Households (excluding students) with incomes below:

100% in 1999           9%

100% in 1999       17.6%

125% in 2008       20.4%

185% in 2008       32.8%

200% in 2008       34.4%

*Percentages are based on the poverty threshold
Source: Census 2000,
American Community Survey

In a report by the Economic Policy Institute, the authors found that families whose incomes fall below 200% of the poverty level experience critical hardships such as food insufficiency. Locally, the Alternatives Federal Credit Union has been engaged in yearly livable wage studies to analyze the minimum wage required to provide basic needs of an adult living in Tompkins County.


Since the first COMPASS report, hunger and food security have received greater attention and response across the community. 51% of residents and 70% of key informants indicated that hunger was a critical problem in the community. The perception of hunger as a problem was nearly equal across all income levels and age categories suggesting that the issue has been more visible in the community. On the household level, nearly 23% of respondents indicated having enough money for food was a critical problem in their household in the past year - up from 10% in 2003. Data from the county food pantries confirm this trend with a 30% increase in the number of households utilizing their services between 2003 and 2008. Food stamp participation has increased steadily over the past 6 years from 2,288 households in December, 2003 to 4,223 households in December, 2009.

Children receiving free or reduced lunches have increased from 2001 to 2007 data, with the highest percentages of students receiving free lunches in Groton (23%), Dryden (24%), Ithaca (28%), and Newfield (34%) school districts.

Teen Pregnancy

37% of residents and 31% of key informants identified teen pregnancy as a critical problem. Pregnancy rates recorded by the NYS department of health show that teen pregnancy incidence in Tompkins County is well below that of New York State as a whole. Respondents under age 30 were much more likely to view teen pregnancy as a problem than other ages. In 2009, the Child Development Teen Pregnancy/Parenting Program calculated 225 teenage females in Tompkins County were in need based on 45 births per year to teens 10 to 19 years old.

Lack of Affordable Child Care

61% of residents and 71% of key informants believe the lack of affordable child care is a community problem. Difficulty finding and affording child care is directly related to respondent age with people under age 35 with 67% much more likely to indicate it was a critical problem in their household. Unmet child care needs have continued to increase since 2000 despite the addition of the Cornell University day care center, and due to overall fees continually increasing. The Child Development Council reports the number of family care providers has decreased which has directly impacted the availability of affordable child care. The affordability of child care continues to be a significant problem for many households with 40% of respondents indicating a problem. Comments included frequent mention of the expense related to quality care and to infant care.

  • 80% of elder care is provided by family members
  • Certified nurse’s assistant annual turnover rate is 71%
  • 91% of nursing homes do not have adequate staff to provide basic care
  • 40% to 60% of home health aides leave after less than 1 year on the job, and 80% to 90% leave within the first 2 years
  • Staff turnover in assisted living settings ranges from 21% to 135% with an average of 42%
Source: “Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce”, Institute of Medicine (2008); Study by Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) (2005)

Lack of Affordable Elder Care

58% of residents and 69% of key informants said the lack of affordable elder care is a problem in the community. About a quarter of respondents indicated difficulty finding or affording care for a person with a disability or an elder. Comments indicated that many respondents have not experienced the management of elder care. Those reporting that they had experience managing elder care found a great deal of difficulty identifying affordable care. Local statistics are not available for elder care need, but national data suggests that professional assistance is difficult to find and expensive, and the vast majority of elder care (80%) is provided by family members.


77% of residents and 81% of key informants said taxes are a critical community problem. Property tax levies across the county have increased by nearly 29% between 2004 and 2009.

Services Difficult to Find When Needed

25% of residents and 15% of key informants indicated that services being difficult to find when needed is a critical problem in the community. 11% of households said having difficulty finding services in their household was a problem.

Significantly more rural residents (30.9%) than urban residents (17.6%) said that services being difficult to find was a critical problem in their community. This is true on a household level as well with 14% of rural residents and 7% of urban residents reporting that difficulty finding services was a critical problem in their household.

Comments by survey respondents indicated awareness of 2-1-1. Several respondents noted that services are easy to find and available, but navigating the process can be difficult. Between 2007 and 2008, Information & Referral/2-1-1 has responded to double the number of calls received, with City of Ithaca residents making the largest percentage of calls.

Overall residents agreed that services are widely available with 71% saying their community has enough services to meet needs. A notably smaller percentage, 60%, agreed that their community has sufficient resources to support services for people in need.


Tompkins County has a strong network of agencies providing support to residents for a wide variety of needs. Anti-poverty services are provided by the Department of Social Services, Catholic Charities, Tompkins Community Action, and American Red Cross. Catholic Charities of Tompkins County, FoodNet, and the Department of Social Services have been working to increase participation in programs through facilitated enrollment.

Area food pantries and congregate meal sites like, Loaves and Fishes and the Salvation Army address immediate hunger needs of residents by providing emergency food services. Additional programs supported by United Way’s Hunger and Food Security efforts include Brooktondale’s Food Pantry Garden, the Food Bank of the Southern Tier’s BackPack Program™, and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The Child Development Council provides support and assistance for child care providers and parents as well as pregnant teens. The Tompkins County Office for the Aging provides information and support for caregivers of elders. HSC's Information and Referral/2-1-1 provides 24-hour phone and web information to residents for help with finding services.

Tompkins Community Action
Tompkins County Department of Social Services
Teen Pregnancy and Parenting Program
Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga
Tompkins County American Red Cross
Loaves and Fishes
Food Bank of the Southern Tier
Child Development Council
Tompkins County Office for the Aging
Tompkins County Office of Assessment
Information & Referral & 2-1-1
Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance
NYS Office of Children and Family Services