Behind the Numbers
Earlier this month, the Rochester Area Community Foundation and ACT Rochester released a sobering-and critically important-report on the distribution of poverty throughout Greater Rochester.
Perhaps the report's most salient finding is that the problem is regionwide rather than confined to the inner city. Indeed, the majority of the region's poor people (59 percent) live outside the Rochester city limits.
As the authors observe: "It is tempting to see the image of poverty as a single, clearly focused photograph. But the true image of poverty is blurry; it is complex and replete with paradox. Even the data requires us to have multiple focal points."
The concept of multiple viewpoints is especially true given the release of 2012 income data by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in late November.
On a per capita basis, personal income in the Rochester metropolitan area increased 3.5 percent in 2012, slightly faster than the 3.3 percent average gain for all U.S. metro areas.
Adjusted for inflation, local per capita personal income is up 7 percent since 2007-in sharp contrast to the 1 percent decline for the 100 most populous U.S. metro areas overall. For 2007-12, Rochester recorded the fourth-highest increase in real per capita personal income among the top 100 metros-trailing only upstate peers Syracuse and Buffalo and Bakersfield, Calif. (Figure 1).
As a result, Rochester's "income gap" has narrowed significantly versus other areas of the country, rising from 85.3 percent of the top 100 mean in 2006 to 93.1 percent in 2012-the best showing in more than a decade (Figure 2).
The realization that regional income levels have been rising-even as many residents struggle in the grip of poverty-gives hope that real progress can be made in addressing this complex social and economic issue in the year ahead.
Gary Keith is vice president and regional economist at M&T Bank Corp.
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