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An economic divide

Picture this: a community that ranks in the top 10 among the 100 largest metropolitan areas nationwide in terms of private-sector job growth since the economy began its big slide in late 2007.
Now, picture this: a community whose urban core has one of the highest rates of children living in poverty.
Welcome to Rochester and its two economies-one emblematic of resilience, the other of despair.
This region can rightfully claim to have weathered the Great Recession better than most others. Indeed, it has more private-sector jobs now than when the downturn began, whereas most of the top 100 metros are still in negative territory.
But its poverty problem has worsened dramatically. New Census Bureau data show that from 2006 to 2011, the share of Rochester children living in poverty rose to 53.9 percent from 41.1 percent-an increase of more than 31 percent. The poverty rate for city households climbed nearly 18 percent to 35.5 percent.
The income levels of 2012 federal poverty guidelines are $11,170 for an individual and $23,050 for a family of four.
Many people think poverty is largely an urban problem, and it’s true the rates are higher in the city. But increases for Monroe County over this period actually exceeded those in Rochester. The county’s overall poverty rate jumped 25.6 percent, reaching 16.7 percent, while the rate of children living in poverty shot up 39.3 percent to 24.8 percent.
Nationally, the increases were 19.5 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
Underscoring the local economic divide are new statistics documenting an increase in income inequality. Over the 2006-11 period, the mean household income of the poorest population quintile in the city declined 6 percent to $5,120; by contrast, income for the top quintile rose 12.4 percent to $110,078.
The same trend exists at the county level: For the lowest quintile, household income was flat at $10,379; for the top quintile, it increased 12.8 percent to $165,573.

With assets such as top-flight educational institutions and a skilled workforce, we possess what’s needed to expand the regional economy. But it will be hollow growth if we don’t do more to enable the community’s poorest members to improve their lives.

9/28/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

One comment

  1. If the workforce population is rising faster than jobs are being created, then you still have an unemployment problem. To say that an unemployment rate of 8.5% is weathering the recession is foolish. While childhood poverty is deplorable in the area, one reason it is so high is that there aren’t as many jobs as you foolhardily believe.

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