An upstate economic portrait painted in Census data

Dec 16, 2010

The Census Bureau released its treasure trove of American Community Survey (ACS) data on Tuesday. (You can play around with it over at their American FactFinder site.)

But the New York Times did the Census one better. By rolling out their interactive Mapping America feature on Wednesday, the Times turned the unwieldy into the enjoyably informative.

The ACS data set has the kind of granular economic information that's super interesting to us folks tending the Trail. It offers a quick glimpse of how upstate New Yorkers are faring as the region tries to jump start its economic engine.

So how have our upstate cities fared over the last decade? According to the data, not great, but not terrible either. Unless you're Rochester.

Buffalo

The westernmost terminus of the Innovation Trail saw a slight decline in incomes over the last decade. At the county level, the region is six percent poorer than it was in 2000. But within Buffalo proper, certain Census tracts saw big gains.

Still, the positive trend is relative. If things in Buffalo are looking up, it's probably because the city is emerging from historic lows. The current median household income in Buffalo city is just above $30,000. For the surrounding county as a whole, that figure is above $46,000. For the state, it's above $55,000.

Rochester

The Flower City had a rough decade. Driven by massive layoffs at Kodak and Xerox, Rochester's Monroe County won the distinction of being the only county in New York to see its median household income drop by more than ten percent.

You'll notice Monroe County is the only one in New York rocking a distinctly Michigan-colored hue.

Kent Gardner, Chief Economist at Rochester's Center for Governmental Research, says the latest data reflects a "regression to the mean" for Rochester. After decades of above-average salaries, the area is being knocked back down as its employment base is changing.

"We had a median household income that was above the state's back in 1999," says Gardner of the 12 percent drop-off. "We've fallen in our relative ranking as we've lost some of the most highly-valued jobs, principally those at Eastman Kodak."

Syracuse

The 'Cuse saw slight declines according to the ACS data. Onondaga County is five percent poorer than it was in 2000.

Syracuse has the second lowest household income of the Innovation Trail cities, besting Binghamton by about 200 bucks.

Binghamton

As our Binghamton reporter Emma Jacobs pointed out on Twitter yesterday, the Aughts were not kind to the cities of the Southern Tier. (According to the Washington Post, the decade was not kind to U.S. as a whole either.) Key tracts of Binghamton saw double-digit declines in median household income.

But under further inspection, some interesting stats stand out for the Parlor City. As previously mentioned, it has the lowest median household income of the five cities on the Trail ($29,813). But, aside from stand-out Albany, it has the highest mean household income of the five ($47,217).

I guess not all of the "stately mansions" have been turned into funeral homes.

Albany

New York's capital city is doing just fine, thank you very much. The ACS data shows that incomes haven't budged a percent. The median income of the county tops the state-wide median. And according to the Wall Street Journal, the region's economic development efforts around nanotechnology are yielding dividends.

As a capitol city it's a bit of an outlier, but the easternmost stop on the Innovation Trail seems to be doing a bit better than its western sister cities.

Maybe the '10s will be our decade.

To put it all in perspective, check out this awesome data visualization of global economic progress over the last 200 years.