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Foss: Capital Region doing better, with some exceptions

Foss: Capital Region doing better, with some exceptions

Incomes up. Poverty down. More people have health insurance
Foss: Capital Region doing better, with some exceptions
An aerial view of Schenectady looking northwest.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

I'm always saying that life in the Capital Region isn't that bad. 

At times, you might even describe it as pretty good. 

This past week the U.S. Census Bureau released new data that affirms my gut feelings: Life in the Capital Region is indeed pretty good, especially if you go by basic, traditional measures of well-being and health.

Incomes are up. Poverty is down. More people have health insurance. 

According to the U.S. Census' American Community Survey, which keeps track of these things, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy Metropolitan Area actually fares better on these measures than the rest of the state. 

Our median income — $65,855 in 2016, up from $63,080 in 2015 — is higher than the state median income of $62,909. Our 9.9 percent poverty rate is lower than the state poverty rate of 14.7, and lower than the national poverty rate of 12.2 percent. 

It's good news, and it makes the Capital Region one of upstate New York's few bright spots — that rare bright spot where incomes are rising and better than average, and fewer people live in poverty. 

In other upstate communities, it's a much different picture. 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, released earlier this year, show that the Mohawk Valley region, which includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties, is struggling with a shrinking workforce and lower pay. In 2016, the average annual wage was $39,985. 

Go a little further west, and you'll encounter upstate cities where the poverty rate is among the worst in the nation. 

According to the American Community Survey, Syracuse is the 13th-poorest place in the country, with a poverty rate of 32 percent. Rochester is the 12th-poorest, and Buffalo is the 23rd-poorest. 

These are shocking numbers, and they actually made me consider the Capital Region in a new light. 

Yes, there's poverty here, but we're doing better than a lot of places. Which means we should be in a better position to address the deficiencies in our midst. There's need here, but also resources to help. 

As for that need, well, it is concerning, especially when you take a closer look at cities such as Schenectady and Albany. 

In Schenectady, the percentage of people living in poverty is 17.2 percent. In Albany, it's 23.9 percent. 

At a time when a growing number of Capital Region residents are reaping the benefits of an improving economy, a large number of people are being left behind. In Schenectady, the median household income is a relatively meager $38,795; countywide, it's $58,331. 

For those on the lower end of the income spectrum, life in the Capital Region isn't pretty good, or even just OK. 

It's a struggle — and for a lot of people, it isn't getting any easier, which is why we're always hearing about the need to expand programs that feed lower-income children and the growing demand at local food pantries. 

There's a lot to celebrate in the U.S. Census data. 

But there's a lot by which to be troubled. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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