The recently released one-year Census Bureau estimates contained some good news on poverty and inequality in the city of Rochester. After peaking the year before, several key measures clearly improved in 2012.
Context matters, however, and it remains an unfortunate fact that poverty levels in the city are among the highest in the nation.
One important benchmark is the share of children living in poverty. In 2012, that number declined to 49 percent from 53.9 percent the year before. But that's still a considerable distance from 41.1 percent in 2006.
The picture is brighter with another key benchmark, the poverty rate for city households. During the 2006-11 period, it jumped nearly 18 percent to 35.5 percent. In 2012, it retreated to roughly the 2006 level, 29.4 percent. Overall, the city's poverty rate was 31.6 percent.
Last year's official poverty line was an annual income of $23,492 for a family of four.
The broader context-how Rochester compares to the national average-underscores the city's plight. The U.S. poverty rate overall last year was 15.9 percent, with 22.6 percent of children in families who live below the poverty line, new American Community Survey estimates show.
So Rochester's rates are double the national average or worse.
Income inequality also increased in Rochester from 2006 to 2011. In terms of aggregate income, the lowest quintile's share was 2.7 percent, while the top quintile got 50.7 percent. The wealthiest 5 percent of city residents accounted for 21 percent of aggregate income.
Reflecting on the 2011 numbers a year ago, we referred to Rochester's "two economies-one emblematic of resilience, the other of despair." At the time, private-sector jobs data indicated this region had done better in the Great Recession than most others across the country.
Since then, job growth here has stalled. In fact, the August numbers showed Rochester was the only metropolitan area statewide with private-sector job losses.
The Rochester area needs more job growth-the city desperately so. Without it, there's little or no chance of substantially reducing poverty and inequality in the region's urban core.
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