How the State Senate Gerrymander Ultimately Hurt Upstate Residents

The November election brought a marked change in the composition of the New York State Senate that will have significant implications for upstate New York residents.  Tom Precious in the Buffalo News noted, “Majority party rules and minority party lawmakers are left with table scraps when it comes to funding and policy matters.  As a result, millions of upstate residents could see themselves lose the sole remaining seat at the table in closed door Capitol talks…”[1]

Kent Gardner wrote in the Rochester Beacon, “A New York State Legislature wholly controlled by downstate interests won’t stop sending education aid Upstate or close the state parks…. Complete control of the NYS Legislature by downstate reps will change things over time. Party aside, upstate has a lot at stake in this election.”

This post will seek to answer two questions:  Why did Republicans lose control of the State Senate, and why does upstate have so little majority party representation?

Republicans had controlled the State Senate from 1966, with only a brief break in 2012, when Democrats gained a majority and then splintered into two factions – one of which joined the Republicans to form a majority.  But in 2018, voters decisively gave control to Democrats, who will hold 40 of 63 seats.  The loss of Republican control will significantly reduce upstate’s representation in the party controlling the Senate, since only three seats outside the New York metropolitan area are held by Democrats.  In the most recent legislative session, 18 upstate Senators were in the Republican/Reform Democrat Senate Majority.

For many years, the Republican Senate majority was composed of a coalition of upstate, Long Island and Hudson Valley members.  In 2000, Republicans maintained control in the State Senate by winning 35 of 61 districts in all parts of the State – 17 in upstate New York, nine on Long Island, five in New York City, and four in the Hudson Valley portion of the metropolitan area.

In 2018, Senate Republicans won only three seats on Long Island, one in New York City and one in the Hudson Valley portion of the metropolitan area.  Only in upstate New York did the party increase its strength – to 18 seats.

The regions that moved towards the Democratic party – Long Island, New York City and the lower Hudson Valley — had substantial Democratic party representation by 2018.  Two-thirds of Senators from Long Island will be Democrats, all but one Senator in New York City and all but one in the Hudson Valley portion of the metropolitan area will be Democrats.

In upstate New York, only three of 21 State Senators will be Democrats.  Ironically, had the Senate’s legislative district apportionments more accurately represented voter party preferences, about half of upstate’s Senators would be Democrats.

Upstate’s majority party representation in the State Assembly will now be stronger than in the Senate.  Twenty-three of 48 upstate seats in the Assembly will be held by Democrats.[2]

Differences in Regional Party Affiliations

In New York City and in the lower Hudson Valley, Democrats and allied parties hold commanding registration advantages in 2018. Of those affiliated with a political party, 87% were Democrats in New York City and 62% in the lower Hudson Valley.  Long Island and Upstate New York are competitive – Democrats and allied parties are 52.5% of Long Island voters who were affiliated with a political party in 2018, and in upstate New York, 52.7% were affiliated with Democrats or allied parties.

Upstate party registrations have shifted toward the Democratic party – from 47.3% to 52.7% between 2000 and 2018.  In 2000, in most upstate metropolitan areas Republicans and Conservatives were a majority of voters affiliated with a political party.[3]  By 2018, Republicans were in the majority in Binghamton and Utica, but Democrats (with Green Party, Working Family Party and the Women’s Equality Party) had majorities of party affiliated voters in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy, Buffalo-Niagara Falls, Rochester, and Syracuse metropolitan areas and in Tompkins County.

Within upstate New York, there are significant differences in the political affiliations of voters in metropolitan areas and outside them.  About one-third of upstate voters live outside the six metropolitan areas.  Almost 60% of these non-metropolitan residents who are affiliated with a party are Republicans.  But, residents of upstate’s larger metropolitan areas – Buffalo-Niagara Falls, Rochester, Albany-Schenectady-Troy and Syracuse lean Democratic.  Even the area’s smaller metropolitan areas – Utica-Rome and Binghamton show close to an even division between parties.

The significance of the split between registered Republicans and Democrats is somewhat weakened by the large number of upstate voters who are unaffiliated with a political party. 890,000 of the 3.84 million registered voters in upstate New York fall into this category.

Also note that the Independence Party was not included in this analysis because its candidate affiliations have been inconsistent.  Initially, In New York State, the party supported Tom Golisano, a wealthy Rochester businessman who ran on conservative a platform in 1994, 1998 and 2002.  More recently, the party has supported Democratic Gubernatorial candidates Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo.  The Independence Party is by far the largest splinter party in upstate New York, with 213,000 members.

Republican and Democrat Voting Strength in Upstate New York

This map, above (from Wikipedia), of the 2016 Presidential Election result suggests that Republican voters (in red) dominate upstate New York.  Other than metropolitan counties like Albany, Onondaga, Monroe and Erie, and a few counties in the Hudson Valley, most of upstate New York voted for Donald Trump, the Republican nominee.

This map looks like Republicans dominate upstate, but most of the red colored Republican Counties are sparsely populated, while the blue Democratic areas are population centers. And, the map is based on a single race. Voter preferences are more complex than can be captured in the results of a single face-off.

Contests for Congress and for Governor show that voting in elections in upstate New York is closely divided between Republicans and Democrats.  Republicans had more votes than Democrats upstate in the 2016 election for President and the 2018 election for Governor, but more votes were cast for Democrats in the 2012 Presidential election and the 2018 Senate and House of Representatives elections.

Why Upstate State Senate Representation Does Not Reflect Voter Preferences

Upstate representation in the State Senate does not reflect underlying party preferences as measured by party registration or voting behavior.  Democrats only hold three of twenty-one upstate State Senate seats, even though races at the State and Congressional levels have been highly competitive, with Democrats winning 5 of 9 upstate congressional districts in 2018, and 23 of 48 Assembly seats as well as gaining more votes in one of two presidential elections and in the most recent U. S. Senate election.  Why is the Senate unrepresentative of upstate party preferences and election performance?

When I began researching this question, I assumed that the primary cause of the difference in electoral results in upstate State Senate districts and other elections had to be legislative district gerrymandering.  After all, what else could explain the fact that Republicans control 18 of 21 districts, even though party preferences are about evenly split between the parties?  Though there is clear evidence that the controlling parties in the Legislature structured districts to favor members of their own parties, another factor appears to be important.  Republicans continue to succeed in electing candidates in upstate Senate districts where there are more Democrats than Republicans.


The State Legislature has historically controlled the redistricting process, creating gerrymandered districts that favored the parties in control.  In 2010, Republicans controlled the State Senate, and Democrats controlled the Assembly.  The result was a series of gerrymandered districts.

For example, State Senate District 50 in the Syracuse Metropolitan Area was carefully constructed to include suburban Republican votes, while excluding Democratic votes in the city of Syracuse.  The seat was held for many years by Senator John DeFrancisco until his retirement this year.  In the 2018 election, another Republican, Bob Antonacci, was the victor.

Assembly District 101, which looks like a worm that connects the town of Montgomery, just west of Newburgh with New Hartford – a suburb of Utica – is another example. The district, which carefully avoids nearby cities (with higher Democratic enrollment), is about 150 miles long and includes parts of Oneida, Herkimer, Otsego, Delaware, Ulster and Orange Counties! It is held by Republican Brian Miller.

Gerrymandering in the legislative apportionment process attempts to make one party waste as many votes as possible by concentrating voters in that party in overwhelmingly one-party districts, while spreading votes in the party benefiting from the gerrymander across districts in smaller, but safe majorities.

Since the mere requirement of population equality does not necessarily result in the creation of legislative districts that come close to reflecting the political preferences of residents, political parties within legislatures have taken advantage of the opportunity to maintain control, often creating legislative majorities that are much stronger than voter preferences would indicate, or in some cases, maintaining control despite the fact that only a minority of voters prefer them. Misalignments between voter preferences and public policy result from partisan gerrymanders.

Additionally, upstate Senate districts on average have fewer residents than downstate districts in order to strengthen upstate’s presence.  The difference in district sizes increased the region’s representation from 20 to 21 seats.  Under the law, legislative district populations may vary by 10%.

In upstate New York, State Senate districts were engineered to break up metropolitan areas into a series of districts that also contained large numbers of non-metropolitan residents, predominantly Republican voters.  The result has been to weaken the ability of democratic leaning metropolitan area voters to elect representatives who shared their political preferences.

For example, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area has 887,000 residents.  With 63 Senators, each Senate District should have approximately 315,000 residents.  The area has enough residents for almost three State Senate districts.  But the most recent Senate Reapportionment in 2016 split the metropolitan area into pieces of four State Senate districts that encompass large rural areas outside the metropolitan area.  In the process, three of the area’s primary cities – Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs were each split into two Senate districts, disregarding their boundaries.

Similarly, the Rochester MSA, with a population of 1.1 million has enough residents to populate three and one third Senate districts but has been split into five Senate Districts including substantial non-metropolitan populations.

An analysis by Jeremy Creelan and Allison Douglas of the Rockefeller Institute, “New Tools to Challenge Partisan Redistricting in New York State”[4]  measured the extent of partisan gerrymandering in New York and examined the reviews of other authors and came to the conclusion that the extent of partisan gerrymandering in New York favoring Republicans was substantial, quoting an analysis by Simon Jackman of Stanford University that concluded that New York’s districts were “the most Republican favoring out of any state…”[5]

Democratic Underperformance

Although State Senate districts were structured to disadvantage Democratic party candidates by mixing Democratic majorities in metropolitan areas with rural, Republican voters, Democrats have not elected as many State Senators as would be expected from upstate Senate districts’ partisan makeups.  Eight of 21 upstate Senate districts have more Democratic voters than Republicans, but only three districts are represented by Democratic State Senators.  Several factors may account for Democrats’ underperformance.

  • The natural advantage conferred by incumbency is reinforced by gerrymandering. In 2018, 18 of 21 Senate contests involved Republican incumbents. The Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in 7 of these races. The three winning Democrats were incumbents. (A similar dynamic plays out in the Assembly. Eighteen of 48 Assembly contests were uncontested.)
  • There is a large fall-off in voting between statewide candidates, and those for the State Senate – 15% of those who voted in the election for U. S. Senate did not vote for a State Senate candidate. This may reflect Democratic voters’ decision to abstain from voting when the race is uncontested or manifestly uncompetitive.


Viewed purely with “sectional” eyes, upstate New York’s influence in Albany may have been greater because Republican gerrymandering granted upstate control of one of the Legislature’s two houses.  But that power meant that the views of about half of upstate’s residents – Democratic voters who make up the majority of residents of metropolitan areas – were underrepresented in the State Legislature.  The upstate Republican leadership of the State Senate primarily represented the interests of conservative rural and suburban residents.  Upstate city residents and people whose policy views corresponded with Democratic party positions received little Senate attention.

With Democratic party control of the State Senate, upstate now has less majority party representation than it would if Senate districts had not been gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, weakening the region’s voice in the State Capitol.

To be sure, fairer legislative districts would not ensure particular outcomes in State Senate races, because voters do not vote for parties in legislative elections any more than they do in elections for Governor or the U. S. Senate.  The large difference in the percentage of upstate voters who favored Andrew Cuomo (46%) against Republican Marcus Molinaro compared with the support given Kristin Gillibrand (57%) against Republican Chele Farley illustrates this point.  In fact, in much of upstate New York, party affiliations are relatively evenly divided, with electoral results in Statewide elections favoring each party in different races.

Reapportionment after the 2020 Census

Reapportionment after the 2020 Census is likely to create legislative districts that more accurately represent the partisan preferences of New York residents than past apportionments.  In 2012, New York voters passed a Constitutional amendment that reforms the apportionment process and institutes new Constitutional requirements for district representativeness.  The process is a mixed bag, containing features that could work against accurate voter representation, and others that could work for it.

The amendment sets up a ten-member redistricting commission with four members appointed by each of the major parties’ legislative leaders plus two additional members selected by the eight.  The amendment also requires that any plan developed receive the support from members nominated by both political parties.  The State Legislature must vote upon the plan submitted by the Commission without amendment. If two successive plans from the Commission fail to receive Legislative and gubernatorial approval, the Legislature is then empowered to present its own plan. As legislative approval is required, there will be an unnamed “third party” involved in the redistricting effort, the “Party of the Incumbency.” Logrolling and trading to preserve the prerogatives of incumbents and secure the required approvals may work against representation of voter preferences within legislative districts.[6]

The Constitutional amendment includes a prohibition against partisan gerrymandering, “[d]istricts shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.  This important provision is intended to prevent the redistricting commission from manipulating district boundaries to advantage particular parties and candidates and  creates a constitutional basis for a court challenge to a legislative districting plan that is gerrymandered.

Because of the statewide shift in voter preferences to the Democratic party, Republicans are unlikely to retake control of the State Senate, at least in the near future.  Upstate New York is unlikely to have as much influence as it had in the past in the State legislature.  But if the  passage of the 2012 constitutional amendment achieves the goal of representational equity,   the Senators who represent it will be more likely to represent the policy preferences of upstate residents.

(Note:  An abridged version of this post appears in the Rochester Beacon, titled, “The Cost of Gerrymandering”)

[1]Potential State Senate Power Shift Offers Big Implications for Upstate,” Tom Precious, Buffalo News, October 7, 2018.

[2] Upstate districts outside the New York metropolitan area are districts 101-103 and 106-150.

[3] The Independence Party is excluded from the analysis.

[4] Jeremy Creelan and Allison Douglas, New Tools to Challenge Partisan Redistricting in New York State?”, Rockefeller Institute of Government, August 31, 2017,

[5] Simon Jackman, “Assessing the Current Wisconsin State Legislative Districting Plan,”  July 7, 2015,

[6] Creelan and Douglas, op. cit.

How Amazon Could Help Upstate New York

One of the Thanksgiving meal discussions at my house involved Amazon’s new HQ2 and why Governor Cuomo didn’t get the company to locate its new facility in upstate New York.  And, though my argument that upstate metropolitan areas lacked technology focused labor pools of sufficient size to be seriously considered by a technology based firm creating 25,000 jobs was received with skepticism, that is one of the real difficulties that upstate metropolitan areas faced in the competition.

But, my former colleague and friend from Empire State Development, Dave Catalfamo points out that with some effort from the Cuomo Administration, some of the benefits offered by Amazon might be more widely shared.  So, I’d encourage you to read the “Put Amazon to Work” on his blog, Exiled in Albany, for some ideas.

Upstate’s Uneven Metropolitan Economies – Implications for Policy Makers

The story of New York’s job market since the 1990’s has been a tale of two regions.  The New York City metropolitan area, where two-thirds of the state’s population lives, has seen private sector employment growth (42.4%) that is near the national rate (48.3%).

  • Albany-Schenectady-Troy’s employment growth – 27.5% – is higher than the remaining New York state metropolitan areas.
  • Job growth in central and western upstate New York, and in other rust belt metropolitan areas, has lagged.  Buffalo’s job growth was 7.9%, while the Syracuse and Rochester metropolitan grew by 4.7% and 10.6% respectively.   Utica-Rome grew 3.9%, while Binghamton lost 14.1% of employment in goods and services.

Much attention has been given to the fact that inflation adjusted worker earnings[1] have stagnated nationally since 2000, after growing from $49,000 in 1970 to $58,670 in 2000.  In 2016, real earnings per worker were $56,900 in the United States.  But the fortunes of metropolitan areas have differed.

  • Real earnings per worker in the New York City metropolitan area grew substantially- from $57,800 to $78,300 between 1970 and 2016. Inflation adjusted earnings also grew in Albany-Schenectady-Troy and Syracuse.
  • Rochester and Binghamton saw declines during the period.
  • In 1970, all New York metropolitan areas (except for Utica-Rome) and metropolitan areas in total in Ohio and Michigan had higher earnings per worker than the United States.
  • By 2016, every metropolitan area, except New York City, had earnings that were lower than for the United States.  Much of the worker earnings slippage can be attributed to the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Because the state’s economic performance has been uneven, it is not surprising that New York and its localities spend heavily on economic development.

  • Empire State Development’s 2017-18 budget was eight times larger than in 2012-13 ($2.768 billion compared with $335 million)[2].
    • Ohio’s economic development corporation, JobsOhio reported expenditures of $96 million in 2017.
    • Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s budget was $54 million in that year.
  • Timothy J. Bartik of the W. P. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research reported that as of 2015, New York’s state and local tax incentives as a percentage of the state’s private industry value added were second highest in the nation.[3] Only New Mexico spent more.
    • New York’s high spending on incentives occurred despite the fact that the state’s business tax burden as a percentage of private industry value added was about average.
  • The 2017 Annual Report on New York State Tax Expenditures show that at the state level, $1.4 billion in economic development tax incentives were issued.[4]

Some economic development efforts have paid off, as companies that have received assistance have created and retained jobs.  But, despite those successes, the employment performance of central and western upstate metropolitan areas, like other rust belt metropolitan areas continues to under-perform the nation’s.

The state’s investments have not lifted job creation in central and western New York above other rust belt communities because economic and technological changes are stronger than the tools available to the state to encourage the creation and retention of jobs. When Eastman Kodak drastically downsized after its consumer film business was destroyed by digital technology, no amount of state assistance could have prevented the resulting job losses.  When labor cost disadvantages led New Process Gear division of Chrysler Corporation to close its factory near Syracuse, and Carrier to move manufacturing operations, the tools available to encourage the companies to stay were simply not enough to make up for the cost differences.

Given those challenges, it is reasonable to ask how economic development strategies for upstate New York metropolitan areas should be structured.  To answer that question, we must start by understanding the changes in the performance of industries that make up regional economies like those in upstate New York.  Because, if we do not understand those changes, we risk allocating resources to efforts that are unlikely to succeed, or which provide a smaller return on the state’s investment than might be received from alternatives.

This post is one of a series presenting data that describes changes in New York’s regional economies and show how those changes might inform state decisions about how to best use resources in the effort to help industry create and retain jobs.  It begins with a look at employment and earnings data since 1970, and then focuses on the more recent 2001-2016 period.

New York’s Differing Metropolitan Economies

New York state is most often seen as consisting of two regions – the New York City metropolitan area, with about two-thirds of the state’s population – and  upstate New York.  But, the upstate/downstate distinction is not as significant from an economic perspective as the difference between areas in the eastern part of New York State, ranging from Albany-Schenectady-Troy through Poughkeepsie into the New York Metropolitan area and the areas west of Albany, such as the Utica-Rome, Syracuse, Binghamton, Rochester and Buffalo metros.  What differs about these two regions is the historic dependence of central and western New York on manufacturing compared with the service sector-based metropolitan areas in eastern New York.

The economic performance of New York’s metropolitan areas has differed in earlier and later time periods.

  • Between 1970 and 1989, Albany-Schenectady-Troy, Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton had the strongest employment growth in the state.
  • Buffalo-Niagara Falls, Utica-Rome and New York City lagged.  Beginning in 1989, Binghamton began a sharp decline, ending up, by 2016 losing 12% of its employment.
  • In the same year, growth in Syracuse and Rochester began to slow as well, with each of those regions showing little growth since them.
  • The New York City metropolitan area began a period of rapid growth in 1995, moving from last place to first place by 2016.

The Decline of Manufacturing

The divergence in performance between the eastern region of the State and central and Western New York that began about 1990 reflects the region’s dependence on manufacturing.

  • Nationally, in 1970, 26.7 percent of goods and services employment was in manufacturing[5].
  • In the rust belt outside New York, 35% of employment was in manufacturing industries[6].
  • The Binghamton, Rochester, Utica-Rome and Buffalo metropolitan areas had greater percentages of employment in manufacturing than the aggregate of rust belt metropolitan areas outside the state in 1970.
  • The New York City, Albany-Schenectady-Troy and Syracuse metropolitan areas had smaller percentages of manufacturing employment than rust belt metropolitan areas outside New York.
  • In two metropolitan areas in 1970, Rochester and Binghamton, more than four of every ten jobs were in manufacturing industries.

By 2017, manufacturing employment nationally fell to 7.1% of goods and services employment in the United States.  In rust belt metropolitan areas outside New York State, manufacturing employment was 11.8% of goods and services employment.

  • By 2017, every metropolitan area in New York state had a smaller percentage of goods and services employment in manufacturing than rust-belt metropolitan areas outside the state.
  • New York’s metropolitan areas west of the Hudson Valley were more dependent on manufacturing than the nation in 1970 and saw larger declines in manufacturing as a percentage of non-farm employment than the rust belt metropolitan areas outside New York State.
  • Four of five metropolitan areas in central and western New York had higher percentages of manufacturing employment in 1970 and larger declines in manufacturing as a percentage of non-farm employment than metropolitan areas in rust belt states excluding New York.

Manufacturing Employment Losses

Nationally, manufacturing employment has decreased by 5.5 million jobs since 1970.

  • Manufacturing employment declines in the United States began in the 1980-1990 decade, reaching a peak of nearly six million jobs lost between 2000 and 2010.
  • One of every three manufacturing jobs in existence in 2000 was gone by 2010.
  • From 2010-2017, manufacturing employment has shown a modest increase – 7.9%.

Metropolitan areas in Central and Western upstate New York saw a loss of 270,000 manufacturing jobs between 1970 and 2017.

  • Since 1990, 150,000 jobs were lost in these metropolitan area.
  • Percentage losses in these New York metropolitan areas for each decade were larger than for the United States.

Service Sector Employment Change

Because most employment in each metropolitan area is in the service sector, overall employment changes depend primarily on service sector employment change.  Since the percentage of total employment in service sector industries has grown substantially since 1970, the correlation between overall employment change and service sector employment change has grown.

At the national level and in New York State metropolitan areas as a group, in every decade except for the 2000 to 2010 period, service sector employment growth was great enough to more than offset the losses in manufacturing employment. In those decades where there was manufacturing employment growth at the national level, service sector growth was far greater.  For example, between 2010 and 2017, manufacturing employment grew by about 900,000, but service sector job growth was almost 14,000,000.

In the New York City metropolitan area, service sector growth has accelerated since 2001.

  • In upstate New York, service sector employment grew after 2000 in Rochester, Albany-Schenectady-Troy, Buffalo-Niagara Falls and Syracuse, but at slower rates than in the New York metropolitan area.
  • Binghamton and Utica-Rome have seen no service sector employment growth since 2000.

Employment Change: 2001-2016

Economists divide the productive portion of the economy into two categories – goods producing[7] and service providing[8].  In this section the employment change in industries providing goods and services from 2001 to 2016 in New York State metropolitan areas is compared with metropolitan areas in two neighboring rust belt states – Michigan and Ohio.

Overall, the employment performance of the metropolitan areas in this group was weaker than the increase for the United States, which grew by 21.1%.

  • For metropolitan areas in New York, Ohio and Michigan, the median employment change was 3.3%.
  • For New York state metropolitan areas, median growth was 4.4%.

Since 2001, differences in employment performance between the Hudson Valley and upstate-west reflect the differences in manufacturing employment losses and service sector employment gains.

  • The New York City metropolitan area, where two-thirds of the state’s population lives, has seen private sector employment grew more than the national rate (28.6% vs. 21.1% for the nation as a whole), and 40% more than the rate for rust belt metropolitan areas outside New York State.
  • Albany-Schenectady-Troy’s employment growth – 13.3% — is almost two thirds of the national rate.

Job growth in central and western upstate New York, Michigan and Ohio rust belt metropolitan areas, has lagged the nation, in most cases, with most metropolitan areas growing at one-third the rate of the nation, or less.

  • Twelve of fourteen metropolitan areas in Ohio and Michigan and all the upstate central and western metropolitan areas grew at this rate or less.
  • Buffalo’s job growth was 7.1%, while the Syracuse and Rochester grew by 4.4% and 3.3% respectively.
  • Utica-Rome lost 1.7%.
  • Binghamton lost 7.2% of employment in goods and services.

The period from 2001 to 2010 ended in the great recession that began in 2008, while the 2010-2016 period was one of economic recovery.  Because the two decades saw sharply different economic performance, they are examined separately in the following sections.

Employment – 2001-2010

Goods and services employment in the United States increased by 5% between 2001 and 2010.  During that period, most rust belt metropolitan areas saw employment decreases.

  • During the 2001-2010 period, most metropolitan areas in New York State were less affected by the recession than rust belt metros in Ohio and Michigan.
    • Employment in the New York City metropolitan area increased by 9.2% during the period, while Albany-Schenectady-Troy increased by 3%.
    • Buffalo-Niagara, Rochester, and Syracuse had small employment declines, ranging from 0.7% for Buffalo-Niagara to 2.5% for Syracuse.
    • Utica-Rome lost 3.4% of goods and services employment.
    • Binghamton was hardest hit in New York, losing 6.4% of its employment compared with 2001.

Employment in most rust belt metropolitan areas in Ohio and Michigan was harder hit between 2001 and 2010 than it was in New York State, with more than half losing more than 5% of goods producing and service providing jobs.

  • Six metropolitan areas – Toledo, Canton, Detroit, Dayton, Youngstown and Flint lost more than one in ten jobs.
  • Much of the region’s loss of employment can be attributed to employment declines in the automobile and related industries.

Manufacturing vs. Service Employment Change – 2001 to 2010

Between 2001 and 2010, 725,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in the New York, Michigan and Ohio metropolitan areas studied, while 870,000 service sector jobs were gained.  But, the balance between manufacturing losses and service sector gains was heavily influenced by the New York City metropolitan area.

  • Of the 870,000 increase in service sector jobs, 679,000 jobs were in the New York metropolitan area, leaving only 190,000 in the remaining metropolitan areas.

Excluding New York City, the data shows that metropolitan areas outside New York state were more affected by the balance of manufacturing job losses and service sector gains than those in New York.

  • Metropolitan areas in Michigan and Ohio lost 510,000 manufacturing jobs while gaining 110,000 service jobs.
  • In New York State, metropolitan areas other than New York City, 92,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, compared with 81,000 service sector jobs gained.

All the metropolitan areas in central and western upstate New York lost more manufacturing jobs than service sector jobs gained.  Albany-Schenectady-Troy and the New York City metropolitan area both gained more service sector jobs than manufacturing job losses.

Employment: 2010-2016

While New York’s metropolitan areas were less affected by the weak economic performance of the 2001-2010 period than those in Ohio and Michigan, most saw a significantly weaker recovery than those other metropolitan areas between 2010 and 2017.

  • Only New York City did better than the nation, with employment growth at 17.8%.
  • Albany, Schenectady, Troy also did relatively well compared to the group of metropolitan areas studied here, ranking eighth of twenty-one.

Job creation was relatively weak in central and western New York metropolitan areas between 2010 and 2016.

  • Only Youngstown performed as poorly as these New York metropolitan areas.
  • The strongest of the central and western New York group, Buffalo-Niagara Falls, saw an increase of 7.9% compared with the median for Michigan and Ohio metropolitan areas – 9.6%.
  • Two metropolitan areas were the weakest of the group. Utica-Rome’s employment increased by 1.7%, while Binghamton’s lost 0.9%.

Compared to Ohio and Michigan, metropolitan areas in New York followed differing paths between 2001 and 2010 and 2010 and 2017.

  • Eastern New York metropolitan areas New York City and Albany-Schenectady-Troy did relatively well in both periods.
    • The New York City metropolitan area’s growth exceeded the nation’s growth and far exceeded the rust belt’s performance in both periods.
    • Albany-Schenectady-Troy did relatively well in both periods, although its performance compared with the other metropolitan areas studied was stronger between 2001 to 2010 compared to 2010 to 2017.
  • In the 2010 to 2017 period, the performance of central and western New York metropolitan areas ranked lower compared to the group than in 2001 to 2010.
    • Central and western New York metropolitan areas had the weakest employment performance of all the metropolitan areas in the group.

Manufacturing vs. Service Employment Change – 2010-2016

Service employment growth dominated the 2010-2016 recovery.

  • For the metropolitan areas in New York, Michigan and Ohio studied, service employment increased by two million, compared with 144,000 manufacturing jobs.
  • The New York metropolitan area contributed half the service sector growth – 1.1 million.

Metropolitan areas in central and western New York state had an increase of 94,000 service sector jobs, compared with a loss of 3,400 manufacturing jobs.

  • Albany-Schenectady-Troy was the only bright spot for manufacturing jobs in New York State.
    • The data shows that the growth was about evenly split between semiconductor and biotechnology manufacturing.
  • Binghamton, the only metropolitan area in the group to lose jobs, lost 2,800 manufacturing jobs, compared with a gain of 2,245 service jobs.

Metropolitan areas in Michigan and Ohio saw larger manufacturing gains than those in central and western upstate New York.

  • Manufacturing jobs in Michigan and Ohio increased by 142,000, while service sector employment increased by 789,000.

Worker Earnings

Between 1970 and 2000 average inflation adjusted earnings grew much more in the nation (19.2%) than in any of the metropolitan areas in New York State, except for New York City, but between 2000 and 2016, the picture changed.

  • Neither the United States nor any of the metropolitan areas saw significant growth, apart from Albany-Schenectady-Troy.
  • Some, like New York City, Michigan and Ohio metropolitan areas in the aggregate, Rochester and Binghamton saw losses.

Unlike employment, inflation adjusted worker earnings did not show distinctive trends in the 2000-2010 period vs. the 2010-2016 period.

Because the mix of employment has shifted from manufacturing, with higher earnings per worker towards services, with lower earnings, average worker earnings today are lower than they would be if the employment mix in 2016 was the same as it was in 1970. 

  • For example, if manufacturing and services wages were at the same levels as in 2016, with the manufacturing/services employment mix of 1970, earnings per worker in the Rochester metropolitan area would have been 16% higher than they are.

In general, metropolitan areas that had the greatest shift from manufacturing to services saw the greatest earnings impacts.

  • Binghamton, the most affected, had a 30% decline in manufacturing’s share of goods and services employment.
  • Earnings per worker in 2016 were 33% lower than they might have been had manufacturing’s employment share not decreased, and manufacturing and service wages had remained as they were in 2016.

The relatively greater loss of manufacturing employment in the rust belt, including central and western upstate New York has affected worker earnings more than for the United States.

  • At the beginning of the period, most metropolitan areas in New York and rust belt metropolitan areas in Michigan and Ohio in total had annual worker earnings that were higher than for the United States.
  • By 2016, all but the New York City metropolitan area were below the United States.
  • Rochester’s average earnings per worker in 1970 were 12% higher than the United States average. By 2016, they were 11% below.
  • Binghamton was 6% above the United States average in 1970, and 23% below it in 2016.
  • Only New York City, with its service sector dominated economy and high average service sector wages remained above the average worker earnings for the nation in 2016.[9]


Employment growth in central and western upstate New York metropolitan areas was relatively strong from 1970-1990, but beginning in 1990 flattened out.  The New York City and Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan areas were less dependent on manufacturing employment and showed stronger growth after 1990.

Employment performance in New York metropolitan areas was, in the 2001-2010 period, generally less affected by the recession than in metropolitan areas in Ohio and Michigan.  But, in the 2010-2017 period, only Albany-Schenectady-Troy and the New York City metropolitan areas in eastern New York performed at average or better than average levels compared to Ohio and Michigan metros.  Buffalo-Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica-Rome and Binghamton were five of the six weakest performers among the metropolitan areas in New York, Michigan, and Ohio.

In every rust belt metropolitan area, manufacturing employment declined substantially between 2001 and 2010.  The best performing metropolitan area in the study, New York City, lost 110,000 manufacturing jobs, 38% of its 2001 manufacturing employment; the worst, Flint, lost nearly two-thirds.  During the 2010-2017 period, manufacturing employment recovered some of its losses in the earlier period, with more than half of the metropolitan areas in the studies gaining 10% or more.  Unfortunately, in New York State, only Albany-Schenectady-Troy saw significant manufacturing gains between 2010 and 2017.  Even so, the manufacturing gains in Albany were less than one-third the size of service sector employment gains.  The New York City, Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton metros saw continued losses.

The comparative employment data examined here shows significant differences in the performance of metropolitan areas between 2001 and 2010 and 2010 and 2017. The differences are likely have resulted from several factors.  Manufacturing employment took a particularly large hit between 2001 and 2010 and has recovered slightly since then.  The historic dependence of many of the metropolitan areas in upstate New York, Ohio and Michigan on manufacturing made them more vulnerable to manufacturing losses than other places.  Import competition, technological obsolescence and productivity improvements were all factors, but had differing impacts on industries in the metropolitan areas in this study.

The average earnings of workers in rust belt metropolitan areas were higher than the nation in 1970 but are now lower.   Average worker earnings for the United States increased by nearly 20% between 1970 and 2000.  Average worker earnings in rust belt metropolitan areas in central and western upstate New York, Ohio and Michigan have been stagnant or declined since 1970.   Since 2000, average earnings at the national level and in rust belt metropolitan areas have not grown, with few exceptions.[10]

Why Rust Belt Metropolitan Areas Have Lagged

Much of the weak employment performance in Central and Western New York metropolitan areas, and in other rust belt locales is the result of their dependence on manufacturing.  The long-term decline in manufacturing employment nationally and in New York State has primarily been the result of efforts by manufacturing businesses to increase their competitiveness by cutting costs.  Though labor costs as a percentage of total production costs vary widely among manufacturing industries, they are important in almost all of them.

One means of reducing unit labor costs is through productivity gains from automation and process improvements.  Some analyses have concluded that more efficient production methods are responsible for as much as 88% of manufacturing employment losses over the long-term, though the effect the effect of this varies significantly by industry.[7]

The movement of manufacturers to locations with lower labor costs is another substantial factor in the decline.  In the twentieth century, rust belt states lost many manufacturing jobs to lower cost, non-unionized, locations in the south.  More recently, manufacturing jobs have moved offshore[27].

Over the longer term, research shows that the rust belt began to suffer in the 1950s because of the very large firms that dominated the region’s most important industries faced little product or labor competition.[11] As a result, workers received a significant wage premium, and industries had relatively low labor productivity growth rates, making them vulnerable to foreign competition.

Another recent study[12] found that “The sluggish job growth of many deindustrialized metropolitan areas was only partly due to the fact that these metropolitan areas specialized in the wrong industries…instead it came about primarily because these areas underperformed the rest of the nation with respect to the industries that they had.[13] Both of these analyses point to the fact that in slow growing areas, “the performance of the particular firms and plants in those areas and/or the relative unattractiveness of those areas to firms seeking to open, grow or relocate were the problem.[14]

In the late 20th century, the Northeast and Midwest lost manufacturing jobs to the South and West.  According to “Locating American Manufacturing: Trends in the Geography of Production, by Susan Helper, Timothy Krueger and Howard Wial,[15]This trend represented a shift of manufacturing jobs toward regions where right-to-work laws are more common, and, in the case of the South, toward a lower-wage region where generous industrial recruitment subsides have long been an important economic development policy tool.”  But, in the recent past, wage differentials between rust belt and Southern locations have declined and are less important in the face of competition from low wage countries.

The loss of manufacturing jobs in the decade from 2000 to 2010 was far larger (5,700,000 jobs) than any other decade in the 1970-2016 period.   While long-term analyses point to productivity gains as the main cost of lost manufacturing jobs, there is evidence that since 2000, offshore production has been the primary cause of lost jobs.  Daron Acemoglu, David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon H. Hanson concluded in Import Competition and the Great U.S. Employment Sag of the 2000s,” that between two and two million, four hundred thousand jobs were lost to Chinese competition between 2000 and 2011. They point out that “the coefficient estimates imply that had import competition from China not increased after 1999, trade-exposed industries in local labor markets would have avoided the loss of 2.35 million jobs.[28] Manufacturing employment has rebounded slightly since 2010 – increasing by 700,000 jobs (6%) between 2011 and 2017.

In part, the cause of the poor performance of many rust belt metropolitan areas was insufficient industrial diversification.  Because they had high concentrations of manufacturing, these areas were vulnerable to technological changes and import competition that sharply reduced manufacturing employment over the past four decades.  In contrast, higher concentrations of service providing businesses in metropolitan areas like New York and Albany-Schenectady-Troy have protected them from the collapse of manufacturing employment that disadvantaged metropolitan areas that had been more dependent on manufacturing.

Many of the metropolitan areas in this study are small enough to be significantly affected by the loss of jobs at a few large businesses.  For example, the displacement of Kodak’s film business by digital technology cost the Rochester MSA 16,000 jobs of the 39,000 manufacturing jobs lost between 2001 and 2017.  No doubt more jobs were lost at Kodak’s suppliers.  Xerox in Rochester, Chrysler’s New Process Gear Division and Carrier in Syracuse had smaller but still significant impacts.

Service sector employment has grown slowly or declined in mid-sized and smaller rust belt metropolitan areas for several reasons.  First, a large portion of service sector employment serves other businesses and the population in its area.  When hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs disappeared in New York State, many service sector jobs were lost as a result.  Second, for advanced services, in some cases, rust belt metropolitan areas are too small to provide large labor pools with the specialized labor skills needed by industries like information and financial services.  Third, industrial consolidation has led to the loss of some corporate headquarters in small and medium sized metropolitan areas.  An example is the purchase of regional banks by megabanks, which became possible after the Glass-Steagall act was repealed.

Implications for State Policy

Traditionally, the goal of state and local economic development agencies has been to encourage businesses to locate or remain or expand within their jurisdictions.  Economic development agencies at the state level perform several functions, including providing financial assistance for purposes such as infrastructure development, urban revitalization and encouraging business investments within the state.  These agencies typically attempt to maintain and create jobs by providing financial assistance to employers to help them strengthen their work forces though training, or by providing tax incentives and/or financial assistance for capital investments.

Since they are business facing agencies, their approaches focus on factors that influence company location decisions, usually at the time that the companies themselves are considering those issues.  This perspective leads to policies that relate to the availability of sites, the costs of building and equipping facilities, and the availability of labor with appropriate skills.  There is little significant research that focuses on the effectiveness of different approaches.

However, available evidence does not support the notion that tax reductions, or the use of business incentives plays a significant role in creating jobs by increasing the demand for workers.  The largest recent study of the effects of tax reductions and business incentives found “The effects of net taxes, gross taxes and incentives are always statistically insignificant.”[16]  As the author points out, “Small variations in wages from place to place can offset the largest tax incentives offered by governments.  The highest incentives that are typically provided could be entirely offset by a competing area that had no incentives, but had labor that was 79 cents per hour cheaper in wages.[17]

When financial incentives are employed to encourage job creation, the most effective approaches provide significant upfront assistance and have short durations (because businesses heavily discount future benefits compared with near term subsidies) and include claw backs and first source agreements (targeting low income people).[18]

Because relatively few business capital investments involve attracting businesses from outside the state, most effort is focused on encouraging the modernization or expansion of existing operations.  During the time I worked at Empire State Development (from 1995-2007), the agency provided financial assistance to thousands of upstate companies for training and capital projects.  Many of these projects would not have taken place, at least at the same scale, without state assistance.  Although I’m not currently at ESD, much of what the agency does today reflects the same objectives and similar approaches to assisting businesses.

While ESD at the state level, and economic developers at the local level, aid service businesses as well as manufacturers, economic development agencies over the years have emphasized the retention of manufacturing as a primary strategy.  This has been a rational approach, since manufacturing jobs have several desirable characteristics: they are typically in industries whose products are sold outside New York state, thereby bringing income into the state; they have historically offered relatively high wages; and in many cases they did not require specialized skills.  Today, because of automation, manufacturing processes have changed, and factory jobs often require specialized skills.  There are far fewer manufacturing jobs now than there were twenty years ago. Though we may not soon see severe decreases, like those of the 2000-2010 decade, fewer than one in ten workers is now employed in manufacturing in most areas.

For those reasons, economic development efforts should reflect the reality that most job growth will continue to come from service sector businesses.  Primary economic development strategies for upstate metropolitan areas should work to strengthen regional service sector businesses that sell services outside the region. Efforts to retain manufacturers are equally important but must recognize that assistance to manufacturers to increase productivity may reduce the number of jobs at facilities but may help preserve those jobs over the longer term.

Encouraging new business development through entrepreneurship is another avenue that state economic development agencies can effectively promote.  Entrepreneurial assistance programs and business incubators, often aimed at disadvantaged groups and businesses, can increase successful business startups.

These activities represent short-term interventions that work within the longer-term context of the existing economic, cultural and demographic environments found where they operate.  But, while economic development agencies can incentivize company decisions in favor of a location, by providing financial assistance, facilitating other government actions, such as permitting, training or by coordinating with local agencies, they should also play a role in contributing to longer-term actions to strengthen regional competitiveness.


The contributions of time and insights by Merideth Andreucci, Kent Gardner, Amy Schoch, Robert Ward and Rockefeller Institute staff including James Malatras, who read earlier drafts of this piece, are gratefully acknowledged.

[1] The Bureau of Economic Analysis of the U. S. Department of Commerce definition: “Earnings is the sum of three components of personal income–wages and salaries, supplements to wages and salaries, and proprietors’ income.”  See:

[2] “Economic Development in the New York State Budget,” Citizens Budget Commission of New York,

[3]A New Panel Database on Business Incentives for Economic Development Offered by State and Local Governments in the United States,” Timothy J. Bartik, W. E. Upjohn Institute,

[4] Includes $69 million in Research and Development Tax Credits.

[5] Data is from U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Regional Economic Accounts Tables:  Most BEA data was taken from the Headwaters Economics Economic Profile System:

[6] Metropolitan areas in Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois (except for the Chicago MSA) and Wisconsin. Chicago like New York City is excluded because its industrial composition has a small percentage of manufacturing employment.

[7] Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting; mining; construction; and manufacturing.

[8] Utilities; wholesale trade; retail trade; transportation and warehousing; information; finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing; professional and business services; educational services, health care, and social assistance; arts, entertainment, recreational, accommodation, and food services; and other services (except public administration).

[9] New York’s position weakened between 2000 and 2016 because of decreases in average earnings per worker in the financial services industries.

[10] One exception is Albany-Schenectady-Troy, where rising government employee earnings have benefited workers in the private sector, as market competition for workers reflects the opportunity for potential employees to take well paid government jobs.

[11] “Competitive Pressure and the Decline of the Rust Belt: A Macroeconomic Analysis,” Simeon Alder, David Lagakos and Lee Ohanian, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 20538,

[12] “The Consequences of Metropolitan Manufacturing Decline:  Testing Conventional Wisdom,” Alec Friedhoff, Howard Wial, and Harold Wolman, Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program,

[13] Ibid, p. 15

[14] Ibid, p. 11.

[15] “Locating American Manufacturing: Trends in the Geography of Production,” Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program, , p. 29.

[16] Timothy J. Bartik, “A New Panel Database on Business Incentives for Economic Development Offered by State and Local Governments in the United States,” p. 110.

[17] Bartik, 2009. “What Works in State Economic Development?” In Growing the State Economy: Evidence-Based Policy Options, 1st edition, Stephanie Eddy, and Karen Bogenschneider, eds. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, pp. 19.

[18] Ibid.

[19] NBER Working Paper No. 19843, The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2014) 129 (4): 1553-1623

[20] Analogous to metropolitan areas but includes rural areas.



[23] These include:  “Solar City: The Risk Embedded in Buffalo’s Billion,” John Bacheller,, ,

and “Nexgen in Syracuse: Throwing Good Money After Bad,” John Bacheller,,

[24] “America’s Advanced Industries:  What they Are, Where they Are, and Why they Matter,” Mark Muro, Johathan Rothwell, Scott Andes, Kenan Fikri, and Siddharth Kulkarni, Brookings Advanced Industries Project, F4.ebruary 2015, p.

[25] “Solar City: The Risk Embedded in Buffalo’s Billion,” op. cit.

[26] NBER Working Paper No. 19843, The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2014) 129 (4): 1553-1623

[27] See:  “Import Competition and the Great U.S. Employment Sag of the 2000s,” Daron Acemoglu, David Autor, David Dorn,  Gordon H. Hanson, 2014.

[28] Ibid., p. S181.

Traded Employment Losses Since 2001 in Upstate New York

Metropolitan areas in Central and Western New York, like others in the Rust Belt that had high concentrations of manufacturing employment, have been hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs.  Ninety-one thousand net manufacturing jobs were lost in the 2001-2010 decade in five upstate metropolitan areas – Utica-Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, Binghamton, and Buffalo-Niagara Falls. During that same period, only 62,000 net service sector jobs were created in these areas.  The period between 2001 and 2010 was an extraordinary decline in manufacturing, but it was not unique.  Manufacturing employment in these Central and Western New York metropolitan areas has declined in every decade, beginning in 1970.

The challenges facing upstate metropolitan areas that had high concentrations of manufacturing employment in the twentieth century are not unique.  In fact, most rust belt metropolitan areas have seen employment stagnate since 2001.  While manufacturing employment has significantly decreased, service sector employment in most rust belt metropolitan areas has grown more slowly than in the nation.  In fact, more than half of the region’s job creation deficit compared to the nation since 2001 is associated with slow service sector growth.

The weak performance of the region’s service sector is in part a reflection of the manufacturing employment losses, since much service sector employment has historically depended on manufacturing.  Almost all manufacturing firms are so-called “traded” businesses, since they sell products outside the regions where they are produced.  These businesses import income into regions through the sale of products and services that they export.  In contrast, local businesses sell products and services within regions.

Manufacturing industries typically produce products that are exported from the metropolitan areas where they are made.[1]  But, service providers operate in many cases within local markets.  For example, lawn care providers, hair dressers and barbers, restaurants and retail stores (other than those with an on-line presence) generally trade within a relatively small area.  Other service providers export their services.  Industries like financial services, information services, on-line retailers and institutions of higher education serve larger regional, national or international markets.

Because local services are bought in local, rather than regional or national markets, local service employment is proportional to local populations.  Because traded jobs export products and services and replace imports, they create more jobs within their regions.  Consequently, economic development strategies focus on strengthening existing traded industries, and attracting traded employment.

This post examines changes in traded industry employment in New York State, Michigan, Ohio and the United States.  The data shows that traded employment grew nationally from 2001 to 2016, but not in Central and Western New York metropolitan areas, or in Ohio and Michigan.  It also shows that while traded service sector employment has grown in most metropolitan areas in upstate New York and the rust belt, growth in some cases has been insufficient to offset losses in manufacturing employment. Even so, traded service employment continues to increase its share of total traded employment.  In 2016, more than 70% of traded employment in every New York metropolitan area except for Binghamton was in the service sector.  Nationally, 80% of traded employment was in service industries.

Employment Change – Traded and Local Industries

Except for the New York City and Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan areas, traded industry employment in New York metropolitan areas and in Ohio and Michigan did not do as well between 2001 and 2016 as the United States, which grew by 13.3%.[2] The Rochester and Syracuse MSA’s saw decreases in traded employment of more than 6%, while in Utica-Rome it decreased by 12.4%.  The Binghamton MSA, which was hard hit by the closure of IBM’s first manufacturing plant, lost 24% of traded employment between 2001 and 2016.  New York City had an increase in traded employment of 19%, while Albany-Schenectady-Troy’s traded employment increased by 11%.

Metropolitan areas in Michigan and Ohio had greater employment losses between 2001 and 2010 than those in New York State, other than Binghamton.  Since 2010, Michigan and Ohio metros have recovered employment at nearly the rate of the nation growing 15% compared to 17%.

Local employment increased by 9% between 2001 and 2010 in the United States.  New York City metropolitan local employment growth during that period was greater than the nation – 13.4%.  Metropolitan areas upstate had much weaker growth. Albany-Schenectady-Troy local employment growth was strongest, at 5%.  Between 2010 and 2016, the New York City metropolitan area again had local industry employment growth that exceeded the nation – 18% to 16%.  Local industry employment growth in upstate metropolitan areas was much weaker – less than 10% in each case.

Traded Industry Employment – Manufacturing vs. Services


Between 2001 and 2010, 3,700,000 traded manufacturing jobs were lost in the United States – nearly three of every ten manufacturing jobs that existed in 2001.  Much of the lost manufacturing loss was the result of increased off-shore competition – 2.4 million jobs by one estimate.[3] But other factors were important as well.  Increases in productivity have played a significant role over the long-term in reducing manufacturing employment.  And, technological change has displaced major manufacturers, like Kodak, that depended on the sale of products like photographic film that became inferior to new competition.

Traded manufacturing employment losses hit New York State metropolitan areas harder between 2001 and 2010 than the United States.  Most metropolitan areas in New York State lost more than 30% of traded manufacturing jobs between 2001 and 2010, compared with 29% for the United States. Michigan/Ohio metropolitan areas were hit even harder than those in New York, losing 39% of manufacturing employment.  

Traded manufacturing employment began to rebound in 2010, gaining 727,000 jobs.  Nationally, traded manufacturing employment increased by 8%. Michigan and Ohio rebounded even more strongly, gaining 144,300 jobs – 18%.   Most metropolitan areas in New York State saw weaker recoveries, or continued manufacturing employment losses.  Three metropolitan areas saw increases – Albany-Schenectady-Troy gained 6,000 jobs (30%), Buffalo gained 2,700 (5.6%) and Utica-Rome gained 190 (1.7%).  The New York City metropolitan area, Syracuse, Rochester and Binghamton had continued losses.  Binghamton lost 19% of its traded manufacturing employment between 2010 and 2016 (2,600 jobs), after losing 6,600 traded manufacturing jobs between 2001 and 2010.


Traded service sector employment in the United States increased in both the 2001-2010 and 2010-2016 periods, though the gain between 2010 and 2016 was larger than in the earlier period – 5,500,500 vs 3,000,000.  Between 2001 and 2010, only the Buffalo-Niagara metropolitan area equaled the national rate of increase – 9.6%.   The New York City metropolitan areas saw an employment increase that approached that for the United States – 8.1% vs. 9.6%.  Rochester and Syracuse had smaller increases, while service sector employment in Utica-Rome and Binghamton decreased.  Metropolitan areas in Michigan and Ohio also had slightly less service traded sector employment in 2010 than in 2001.

Between 2010 and 2016, national traded service sector employment increased by 16.4% compared with 9.6% in the earlier period.  New York City’s traded service employment increased by 18.4%, while metropolitan areas in Michigan and Ohio had an increase of 14.2%.  All the metropolitan areas in upstate New York had increases of less than 10%, with Albany-Schenectady-Troy showing the strongest growth – 9.1%, followed by Rochester with 8.9% and Buffalo-Niagara Falls with 8%.  Binghamton again lost traded service sector employment .

Traded Manufacturing and Service Employment 2010-2016

Following the great recession of 2008-2010, manufacturing employment rebounded nationally, as well as in several upstate New York metropolitan areas.  How much employment growth did traded manufacturing and service employment each contribute?

The performance of metropolitan areas showed substantial differences.  Nationally, manufacturing generated 11% of traded employment growth between 2010 and 2016.  But, in Albany-Schenectady-Troy. Utica-Rome and Michigan and Ohio metropolitan areas, manufacturing accounted for one-third or more of employment growth.  In Buffalo, manufacturing provided 20% of traded growth.  But in Binghamton, the New York City metropolitan area, Rochester and Syracuse, manufacturing employment continued to decline.

Because manufacturing employment dropped sharply between 2001 and 2016, and traded service employment generally increased, service employment now constitutes more than two-thirds of all traded employment nationally, and in most of the rust belt metropolitan areas studied.

Only the Binghamton metropolitan area has less than 70% of traded employment in service industries, and even that area has shifted towards services.


Over the 2001 – 2016 period, manufacturing dependent upstate metropolitan areas west of Albany-Schenectady-Troy and those in Michigan and Ohio did not do well. While traded employment in the United States increased by 13.3%, every upstate metropolitan area west of Albany and those in Ohio and Michigan had less traded employment in 2016 than in 2001.  But, between 2001 and 2010 and 2010 and 2016, the employment of upstate metropolitan areas differed from other rust-belt metropolitan areas in Ohio and Michigan.  Ohio and Michigan had steeper traded employment declines between 2001 and 2010 and greater growth between 2010 and 2016 than did those in Western and Central New York.  The v-shaped employment change in Ohio and Michigan may have been primarily the result of the collapse and federal bail-out of the domestic auto industry during the great recession.

Traded service sector employment growth was relatively weak during both periods in Central and Western New York metropolitan areas.  Two small metropolitan areas – Utica-Rome and Binghamton had less traded service employment in 2016 than in 2001.  But, despite the relatively weak growth of traded service sector employment in Central and Western New York metropolitan areas, most traded employment growth in the region came from service sector industries.

State and local governments in the rust-belt seeking to strengthen regional economies face a challenging environment.  Because they have higher percentages of employment in declining and slow-growing industries than other regions, if rust-belt regions are to succeed in encouraging economic growth, they must focus on helping build employment in faster growing industries, while helping preserve the existing industrial base.   Because there are relatively few large business expansions and relocations in a given year (one estimate is 1,500)[4], attracting businesses in growing industries can be difficult – competition can be intense and incentive costs are often very high.  Supporting the growth of existing small businesses in faster growing sectors may be more cost-effective, but relatively few small businesses grow to become large employers.

Too often, policy makers think primarily of tax incentives as the primary tool to induce businesses to locate and expand within their jurisdictions.  But, tax incentives have crippling weaknesses as economic development policy tools.  First, they are extraordinarily wasteful.  Timothy J. Bartik, in “Who Benefits from Economic Development Incentives? How Incentive Effects on Local Incomes and the Income Distribution Vary with Different Assumptions about Incentive Policy and the Local Economy”[5] found that 85 to 90% of typical incentive spending is wasted, because it does not affect the existence of about 85 to 90% of the jobs that receive tax incentives. Bartik writes, ““But for” the typical incentives, the probability of the incented jobs choosing the state would have been reduced from 100 percent to 90 or 85 percent.” Because of this, Bartik concludes, “As a result, the direct budget costs of incentives significantly exceed fiscal benefits.”[6] Bartik estimates that fiscal benefits are 22% of incentive costs, based on his model’s assumptions.

In practical terms, the heavy use of tax incentives carries a large opportunity cost.  Given that state and local budgets are constrained by tax revenues, large tax incentive expenditures are likely to result in cuts to major state programs – primarily education and social assistance.  Alternatively, they can lead to tax increases, which decrease private sector demand because they reduce the number of dollars available to taxpayers to spend.

Development of successful economic development strategies at the state level requires understanding the needs of existing businesses within a region and the development of effective assistance strategies.  They require the creation and maintenance of strong relationships between state, local and regional economic development organizations.  They build knowledge of and relationships with existing traded businesses and seek to meet their needs.  Effective organizations maintain strong business visitation programs, assemble up to date site data, and work with private developers to expand site availability, work with training providers to ensure the availability of workers with needed skills, assist expanding businesses in expediting permit processes, and where needed, provide financial assistance for capital costs and worker training.

Because of the difficulties faced by upstate metropolitan areas west of Albany-Schenectady-Troy, Governor Cuomo has focused resources on the region. The Governor proposed legislation in 2011 creating Regional Economic Development Councils. The Councils are responsible for the creation and implementation of regional economic development plans.  The state provided funding to support their implementation.

The intent of the initiative is to give regions greater voice in decision making about state supported economic development efforts.  As of 2018, the state has spent $5.4 billion on projects selected through the Regional Councils.[7]  This year’s funding is $750,000,000.  $225 million is to be provided through grants and tax credits from Empire State Development, and $525 million through other state agency programs.  To be sure, much of the spending is through already existing programs, but there has been significant additional funding provided for regional initiatives.

Much of the emphasis of the regional strategies that were developed in response to the Governor’s call has been on growing advanced manufacturing and high technology within upstate New York regions.  And, the State has encouraged that focus with a series of large investments in high technology manufacturing facilities. It is clearly rational for regional economic developers to focus on retaining manufacturing employment, and it is possible for manufacturing employment to grow, as it has in some metropolitan areas.   But, over the past forty years, manufacturing employment’s share of national employment has declined.  High technology manufacturing has declined along with more traditional industries. Regional economic development strategies should recognize that most employment growth in upstate New York and elsewhere, even that in traded industries that export products and services, is in services.

Future posts will examine additional employment challenges faced by upstate metropolitan areas and the Governor’s Regional Economic Development initiative.

[1] One of the relatively rare exceptions might be found in the food processing industry, such as a few dairies that only sell their products within the metropolitan areas where they are located.

[2]Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics – Current Employment Survey.  Traded employment estimated as proposed by Mercedes Delgado, Richard Bryden and Samantha Zyontz, in “Categorization of Traded and Local Industries in the US Economy,”  In this paper the authors estimate the percentage of employment in two-digit NAICS codes that is traded.  Because two digit codes are broad categories, differences in industry mix within clusters between areas are possible sources of estimation error.

[3] “Import Competition and The Great U.S. Employment Sag of The 2000s” Daron Acemoglu, David Autor, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, and Brendan Price, NBER Working Paper 20395,

[4] Timothy J. Bartik, “Local Economic Development Policies,” Upjohn Institute Working Paper No. 03-91, W. E. Upjohn Institute, 2003.


[6] Ibid, pp. viii-ix.


Government Policies and Job Growth in New York State and the Rust Belt

A recent Washington Post article, “As senator, Clinton promised 200,000 jobs in Upstate New York. Her efforts fell flat.”[1] points out that during Senator Clinton’s tenure between 2001 and 2009, Upstate New York saw job growth of only 0.2%, far from what Clinton claimed could be achieved.  While the article neglects to point out that the nation as a whole actually lost jobs during the period, since Clinton’s term ended near the low point of the recession of 2008-2009, it is clear that her claim was unfounded.

But, Senator Clinton’s emphasis on economic development and job creation is not unique.  Politicians in New York state and elsewhere regularly claim that their policies lead to job creation, often using statistics to tout their arguments.  In 1994, a significant element of Governor George Pataki’s first campaign for Governor focused on his claim that the state’s loss of jobs in the period immediately prior to the campaign was a result of Governor Mario Cuomo’s tax and regulatory policies.  Governor Pataki was fortunate, initially, because following the recession that took place in the early 1990’s, the national economy, and New York’s, improved.  Each month for the first five years of Pataki’s terms of office, his Administration pointed to the creation of thousands of jobs in New York State.

Then, in 2000, the nation again entered recession, which was exacerbated by the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Not surprisingly, New York stopped seeing job growth, and the frequent press releases ceased.

More recently we have seen Governor Andrew Cuomo point to continued job growth during his administration.  In his 2016 State of the State speech, the Governor said, “We limited the state’s new spending to less than 2% a year. We passed a 2% property tax cap that has brought welcome relief to the citizens of our state and we have cut income, corporate and estate taxes. In total, we have reduced the tax burden on New Yorkers by $114 billion dollars. Why is that important? Because reducing taxes is part of our strategy to create jobs.”

During Governor Cuomo’s administration, like the first years of Governor Pataki’s administration, New York State has seen significant job growth.  But can governors or senators rightfully take credit for employment growth during their administrations?  Is New York’s relative job creation performance primarily the result of State and local tax and spending policy?  This post will examine patterns of job growth in New York, and will attempt to provide some answers.

Employment Change in New York State and the Nation

Many analyses of employment change focus on comparisons between New York State and the national average.  Between 1990 and 2015, private sector employment grew by 18.7 percent, compared with 33.5% for the nation (note, data in this report, unless otherwise noted, is from the U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics).  When New York is broken into regions – the New York City metropolitan region, and the rest of the state (Upstate) – there is a considerable difference in performance.  New York metropolitan employment grew by 24.5%, while Upstate employment grew by 6.1%.



But, a closer examination of the state’s performance shows significant variations in performance across different economic cycles.  Since 1990, the nation has experienced three significant growth periods, broken by recessions in 1990-1992, 2000-2002, and 2007-2009.  In the first growth period, 1992-2000, New York’s performance lagged the nation’s – private sector employment in the state as a whole grew by 15.2%, compared with 23.5% for the nation.  The difference in performance between upstate New York and the New York metropolitan area was substantial – downstate employment grew by 18.2%, while upstate job growth was 8.2%.

Percent Employment Change  – 1990-2015
    United States New York NYC Metro Upstate
 Recession   1990-1992  -0.08% -5.24% -6.84% -1.83%
 Growth   1992-2000  23.52% 15.18% 18.70% 8.06%
 Recession   2000-2002  -2.55% -4.38% -4.56% -3.97%
 Growth   2002-2007 6.39% 5.10% 6.43% 2.14%
 Recession   2007-2009  -7.54% -3.97% -4.04% -3.81%
 Growth   2009-2015 12.88% 12.65% 15.54% 6.00%

During the second growth period – from 2002-2007, New York’s performance again lagged the nation’s, but by significantly less than in the 1990’s.  Nationally, private sector employment grew by 6.4% compared with 5.1% for New York State.  Employment in the New York portion of the New York metropolitan area grew by 6.4%, which was greater than the national growth, while upstate employment grew by only 2.1%.

During the third growth period, from 2009-2015, private sector job growth in New York State about equaled the growth in the nation – 12.7% in New York vs 12.9% in the nation.  Growth in the New York portion of the New York Metropolitan area exceeded the nation’s – 15.54%, while that in upstate New York was again sub-par, at 6%.

New York Compared to Rust Belt States

Population growth in the United States has continued to shift south and west.  That factor alone contributes to regional variations in employment change.  Additionally, regions vary in “industry mix,” the relative proportions of their populations employed in different industries.  Given the historic importance of manufacturing in the rust belt, states in the Northeast and Midwest have suffered more than the rest of the nation.  For thirty years, manufacturing employment was stayed constant, at 18 million jobs, as service employment grew.  But, the decade from 2000 to 2010 saw one in every three manufacturing jobs disappear in the United States – from 17.3 million to 11.5 million.[2]


Not surprisingly, employment growth in rust belt states in the first decade of this century reflected the weak performance of the manufacturing sector.  Even before the great recession of 2007-2009 rust belt states saw little or no private sector job growth.  For the rust belt, both the decade between 1990 and 2000 and that between 2010 and today saw much better economic performance.


Employment Change in Rust Belt States – 1990-2015



Illinois Indiana Massachusetts  Michigan New York Ohio Pennsylvania
1990-1992 -0.18% 2.45% -3.93% 0.81% -5.26% -0.34% -1.19%
1992-2000 15.78% 17.93% 21.10% 20.55% 14.56% 17.18% 13.50%
2000-2007 -1.62% -1.04% -2.91% -11.85% 0.52% -5.22% 1.46%
2007-2009 -9.09% -10.31% -5.11% -12.44% -4.48% -9.78% -5.55%
2009-2015 9.00% 13.41% 11.50% 14.45% 12.73% 10.91% 7.67%

State and Local Tax Policy and Job Creation

Does the data support the argument that state economic performance is related to tax policy?  We have often seen arguments that New York, as a relatively high taxed state, is at a disadvantage to regional competitors with lower tax burdens.  The data shows that some states with relatively high tax burdens – Massachusetts and New York – did better than states with significantly lower burdens – Michigan and Ohio, for example. (source -State & Local Government Finance Data Query System. The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. Data from U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances, Government Finances, Volume 4, and Census of Governments (1977-2013)).  It also shows that the relative performance of states varied from period to period.  For example, Michigan was one of the strongest performers in the rust belt from 1992 to 2000, but was among the weakest in the recessions of 2000-2002 and 2007 to 2009.

State and Local Taxes Per Capita

Region and State 2013
United States ……………………………………………………………………… $4,599
Massachusetts……………………………………………………………………… $5,723
New York……………………………………………………………………… $8,047
Pennsylvania……………………………………………………………………… $4,627
Illinois……………………………………………………………………… $5,374
Indiana……………………………………………………………………… $3,793
Michigan……………………………………………………………………… $3,750
Ohio……………………………………………………………………… $4,275

The Upstate Downstate Divide

For the past half century, Upstate New York has consistently grown more slowly than downstate, largely because of its historical dependence on manufacturing.  Even so, the chart below shows that there have been significant differences in private sector employment growth between New York’s metropolitan areas.  The New York City metropolitan area had the greatest employment growth – more than 25% – among those studied in New York State between 1990-2015.  The Albany Schenectady Troy metropolitan area was second, with about 20% private sector job growth.

NY Metros Jobs2


But other metropolitan areas upstate had little private sector employment growth, or in some cases, losses.  Rochester’s employment grew by about 5%, and Buffalo’s by 3%. Binghamton’s employment declined by more than 15% during the period.

The job creation performance of New York metropolitan areas compared to other metropolitan areas in the rust belt varied substantially during different periods of growth and recession, even within relatively short time periods.  Relative to other rust belt metropolitan areas, New York metropolitan areas showed the weakest performance in the 1990-1992 recession, and the strongest in the 2007-2009 recession.  These kinds of shifts can reflect the effects of differing economic environments as they relate to metropolitan areas’ industrial bases.  For example, in 2007-2009,  metropolitan areas in Michigan, highly dependent on the auto industry, were particularly hard hit while New York’s metropolitan areas generally did relatively well.  Syracuse and Buffalo’s performance was weak between 1990 and 2000, but did relatively well between 2000 and 2009.

upstate employment change rank

Is the large variation in private sector employment change between metropolitan areas in New York State found in other states?  A look at employment change in other rust belt states shows that it is.


Ohio Employment





The differences in employment change between cities within each state were substantially larger than those between states.  For example, Columbus, Ohio metropolitan area private sector employment grew more than 40% between 1990 and 2015, while Youngstown saw a decline of nearly 10%.  In Michigan, Grand Rapids private sector employment grew by more than 40%, while Flint’s dropped by nearly 20%.  The high level of dispersion between the economic performance of individual cities within states points to the fact that in these historically relatively undiversified metropolitan areas, the performance of a dominant industry or company can significantly affect metropolitan area private sector employment change.  Both Detroit and Flint suffered signficantly from the woes of the domestic auto industry, while the Rochester area saw Eastman Kodak employment decrease from nearly 50,000 in 1988 to a small fraction of that today.


There is clear evidence that federal policies, whether relating to labor and environmental regulations, taxes, trade, or the use of fiscal and monetary policy, can have a significant impact on corporate decision making and job growth.  But, former Senator Clinton’s claims about growing the upstate economy foundered on several realities.  First, the Senator failed to recognize that the region’s job creation would largely depend on national economic conditions.  When the national economy contracted from 2007 to 2009, any chance that 200,000 jobs would be created in upstate New York disappeared.  And, it must be recognized that  as a junior senator in a body of 100 members, Senator Clinton’s influence on federal economic policy was very limited.

Policy claims about employment change in New York often center around the notion that New York’s high taxes have retarded the state’s growth.  These claims are rooted in historical experience.  Beginning in the 1960’s New York State began to see its manufacturing base erode, as textile manufacturers, appliance makers and others sought locations with lower labor costs and taxes, and easier regulatory policies.

But it is important to remember that even then, other factors influenced location decisions.  While some people and businesses moved south and west for lower living costs, quality of life was a factor as well, probably a more important one than tax costs.  People chose to locate in the sunbelt to avoid cold winters and snow, and to access new opportunities found in these areas. As the nation’s population grew in the South and West, New York and other rust belt states were no longer as competitive as locations to serve national markets as they had been.  Metropolitan areas in the rust belt stagnated as areas in the South and West grew.  Areas that were heavily dependent on manufacturing saw  the greatest losses.

The data shows that New York’s employment change over the past 25 years has been similar to that in other rust belt states.  The relatively small differences in performance at the state level do not show an association with state and local tax levels.  There were  large differences in relative job creation performance between metropolitan areas within states overall, and significant variations in the relative performance of metropolitan areas over relatively short time periods.

Both of these findings are inconsistent with the argument that state and local tax differences are a primary explanation of state economic performance, since state and local tax burdens within states do not significantly differ, and New York’s state and local tax burden relative to other rust belt states has not shifted significantly over time.  If tax levels were a significant factor influencing job growth, we would expect to find more consistent patterns of performance within states  and across time periods, and differences in job growth between states that would be consistent with differing tax burdens.  Instead, the data points to the fact that job creation in metropolitan areas depends mostly on their industry mix – the performance of the companies within the industries that make up their economies.

These findings reflect the fact that today, state and local tax costs are a very small percentage of total firm operating costs, and that differences between states are even smaller.  In earlier research, based on data from the Tax Foundation,  I found that state and local taxes amounted to less than 4% of business operating costs (less than 2% for manufacturing businesses), on average, and that differences between New York  taxes and  taxes in other states were less than 2% of operating costs. These relatively small differences pale compared with the large differences in labor costs between locations in the United States and in low wage countries.

One study, by Professor Peter Navarro, estimated that differences in labor costs between the United States and China could amount to 17% of the cost of production – more than ten times the impact of state and local taxes on manufacturing operating costs.  For manufacturers, the large differences in labor costs and the growth of global markets have led to the movement of manufacturing operations to locations outside the United States.

While New Yorkers might legitimately question whether the services they receive are good enough to justify paying state and local taxes that are 80% higher than the average for the nation, and substantially above the average for the rust belt, the data does not support the notion that high taxes have hurt employment levels in New York State.


Metropolitan areas included in rust belt comparison:  Illinois:  Champaign-Urbana, Chicago, Peoria, Rockford, Springfield; Indiana:  Elkhart, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Gary, Indianapolis; Massachusetts:  Boston, Springfield, Worcester; Michigan:  Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing; New York:  Albany-Schenectady-Troy, Binghamton, Buffalo-Niagara Falls, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica; Ohio:  Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Youngstown; Pennsylvania:  Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Erie, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, York.

[1] “As senator, Clinton promised 200,000 jobs in Upstate New York. Her efforts fell flat.” Jerry Markon, Washington Post, August 7, 2016.

[2] Economic Policy Institute, “The Manufacturing Footprint and the Importance of U. S. Manufacturing Jobs,” Robert E. Scott.  January 22, 2015.


Poverty in Upstate Metropolitan Areas – Characteristics and Change: 1999-2013

A paper, based, in part, on data previously presented on this blog site.

This paper examines the incidence of poverty in upstate New York cities, compared to the surrounding suburbs.  The data shows that while residents of upstate suburbs enjoy incomes that are substantially higher than the national average, and poverty rates that are substantially lower, upstate cities have higher levels of poverty and lower incomes than the nation, and it shows that the level of poverty in upstate cities is growing more quickly. Compared with other rust belt cities, the economic separation of central cities and suburbs is greater in upstate New York.

  • The data shows that poverty levels are particularly high for families with children under 18 – more than 50% in some cases.
  • The ratio of families with children living in poverty in upstate cities to those living in poverty in suburbs is greater than the average of rust belt cities outside New York State – as much as twice as great in some cases.
  • The residents of upstate cities are becoming increasingly economically segregated from those outside them. While nearly half of families with children in upstate cities are poor, only 5% to 15% of those in suburbs live in poverty.
  • Residents living in poverty in upstate central cities are less educated and less likely to work than people not in poverty outside those cities.
  • Households in poverty are far more likely to be headed by a single householder – usually a woman.
  • Minority group members are greatly over-represented among those living in poverty.

Read more here:

More on Race, Income and Student Achievement

A few months ago, I wrote about the link between economic disadvantage and poor student performance.  I looked at the performance of students on the State’s annual student assessment for grades 3 to 8, and found that the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in schools and school districts accounted for about three quarters of the difference in performance.

performance vs disadvantaged

The data showed that a ten percent increase in students who were economically disadvantaged was associated with a six percent decrease in performance on the statewide assessment.

The New York Times, on April 29, published an article “Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares” that reports on a study that was based on national level data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  The article points out that:

“We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.”

The data for the analysis comes from “The Geography of Racial/Ethnic Test Score Gaps” by Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides and Kenneth Shores of Stanford.

In “School Segregation and Student Performance Gaps,” Reardon argues:

“Although it is clear that racial segregation is linked to academic achievement gaps, the mechanisms underlying this link have been debated since Coleman published his eponymous 1966 report. In this paper, I examine sixteen distinct measures of segregation to determine which is most strongly associated with academic achievement gaps. I find very clear evidence that one aspect of segregation in particular—the disparity in average school poverty rates between white and black students’ schools—is consistently the single most powerful correlate of achievement gaps, a pattern that holds in both bivariate and multivariate analyses.”

My own research showed that upstate cities have increasingly high poverty rates – in Syracuse and Rochester, for example, more than 50% of children under 18 live in poverty, and that minority group members living in upstate cities have far lower median incomes than white city residents or of white suburban residents.

Median Family Income – 2014
Upstate Cities
  Black Hispanic White
Albany $39,077 $29,268 $84,422
Buffalo $29,155 $21,803 $55,516
Rochester $28,752 $23,717 $56,178
Utica $22,975 $18,149 $51,043
Syracuse $27,902 $23,438 $57,246
Troy $21,563 $20,061 $60,843
Schenectady $27,338 $25,111 $62,818
Median Family Income – 2014
Outside Cities
  Black Hispanic White
Albany $67,400 $78,594 $91,693
Buffalo $39,001 $44,463 $77,996
Rochester $44,716 $44,179 $81,432
Utica $50,785 $34,792 $70,457
Syracuse $48,187 $57,778 $80,714
Troy $47,521 $67,381 $84,992
Schenectady $65,062 $52,505 $88,674

Median family incomes for blacks in most upstate cities were between $20,000 and $30,000 in 2013, while white families in suburbs around most upstate cities had median incomes of between $80,000 and $90,000.

The increasing separation of residents of upstate and suburbs by income is one of the most dramatic changes in the past half century in the way upstate residents live.  In 1969, 14.2% of the residents of the City of Rochester, and 14.1% of the residents of Syracuse lived in poverty, compared with 11.1% for New York State as a whole.  By 2013, 33.9% of Rochester residents lived in poverty, while in Syracuse, 36.5% lived in poverty.  The poverty rate for New  York State was 15.6%.  So, New York State saw in increase in the percentage of residents living in poverty of 4.5%, while residents of Rochester had an increase of 19.7%, and 25.4%.

Percentage of Residents Living in Poverty
1969 1989 1999 2013
Albany 14.2%  N/A 21.5% 25.3%
Buffalo 15.2% 25.6% 26.6% 31.4%
Rochester 12.4% 23.5% 25.9% 33.9%
Syracuse 14.1% 22.7% 27.3% 36.5%
Schenectady N/A N/A 20.8% 24.8%
Troy N/A N/A 19.1% 27.3%
Utica N/A N/A 24.5% 31.7%
New York State 11.1% 13.0% 14.6% 15.6%

(Data for cities with populations of less than 100,000 were not available for years before 1999).

Recent studies, like the national study by Reardon and other Stanford researchers, show strong associations between the concentration of black and hispanic residents in areas with high concentrations of poverty and poor student performance.

Unless we address the factors that lead to the growth of concentrated poverty in upstate central cities, and the continued separation of white, hispanic and black residents in upstate metropolitan areas, how can we effectively combat the persistent economic differences between black, Hispanic and white residents of upstate metropolitan areas, and the cycle of intergenerational poverty?

Racial Divisions in Upstate Metropolitan Neighborhoods

In my last posting I described income differences in 800 upstate metropolitan neighborhoods in Albany, Erie, Monroe, Oneida, Onondaga, Rensselaer and Schenectady Counties.  The data comes from the United States Census Bureau which divides the nation into census tracts, the most detailed level publically tabulated. Overall, there are 73,000 census tracts nationally, averaging 4,200 residents each.

While there are significant differences in incomes, unemployment and poverty among upstate neighborhoods, the differences in racial patterns, particularly between people identifying as black or African-American and those identifying as white are much stronger, and the racial differences are strongly related to neighborhood economic conditions.

Racial Divisions – Two Neighborhood Types

Census Tracts with High Concentrations of Black Residents

Upstate Metropolitan Census Tracts – 2014
Sorted by Percentage of Black/African-American Residents
High Concentration Average Concentration Low Concentration
  30% of of all Black Residents 40% of all Black Residents 30% of all Black Residents
%Black 83.4% 38.6% 4.4%
%Hispanic 5.0% 16.7% 3.8%
%White 8.6% 36.2% 86.4%
Black Residents 105203 143812 109430
All Residents 126153 373030 2471015
Low Income 64.0% 58.6% 29.5%
Medium Income 31.4% 34.8% 47.7%
High Income 4.6% 6.6% 22.8%
Mean Household Income $37,238 $44,171 $76,175
% Unemployment 19.8% 14.1% 6.7%
% Poverty 34.0% 32.4% 6.8%

More than eight of every ten residents of neighborhoods with high concentrations of black residents identify as black or African-American, even though only 12% of all residents of upstate metropolitan census tracts were black.  Residents in typical neighborhoods with high concentrations of black residents had very few residents identified as white, not Hispanic – only eight in one hundred.  About five percent of residents with high concentrations of black residents identify as Hispanic, about the same percentage as upstate urban neighborhoods, overall.

When average concentration neighborhoods are added to the picture, 70% of residents live in neighborhoods that average 50% black or African-American.  These neighborhoods have concentrations of black residents that are more than four times the average for all upstate neighborhoods.  When combined with those who identify as Hispanics, people who live in neighborhoods that have average concentrations of black/African-American residents are more than 60% minority residents.

Note that the income, unemployment and poverty levels of neighborhoods that had average levels of black residents were only slightly better than those of neighborhoods with high levels.  For neighborhoods with high and average concentrations of black residents, mean household incomes in 2014 were only slightly higher ($40,176) than those for residents of neighborhoods with high concentrations of black residents ($37,238).


In neighborhoods with high concentrations of black residents, 64% of households had low incomes – almost as high a percentage as was found in neighborhoods with high concentrations of low income residents.  About three in ten residents of these neighborhoods had middle incomes, while about 5% had high incomes.

Typical residents of neighborhoods with high concentrations of black residents, had incomes of  $37,200 in 2014, only slightly higher than the average income in neighborhoods with high concentrations of low income residents.  Similarly, the concentration of poverty in neighborhoods with high concentrations of black residents averaged 37%, like that of low income neighborhoods, which averaged 37%.

Unemployment among residents of neighborhoods with high concentrations of black residents was nearly 20% in 2014, the highest of any of the groups in this analysis.

Census Tracts with High Percentages of Hispanic Residents

Upstate Metropolitan Census Tracts – 2014
Sorted by Percentage of Hispanic Residents
  High Concentration Average Concentration Low Concentration
  30% of all Hispanic Residents 40% of all Hispanic Residents 30% of all Hispanic Residents
%Hispanic 29.8% 9.2% 2.4%
%Black 35.8% 20.8% 7.3%
%White 27.5% 62.3% 85.5%
Hispanic Residents  48,205  65,181  50,189
All Residents  161,994  704,899  2,103,305
Low Income 65.5% 46.4% 28.4%
Medium Income 30.2% 41.8% 47.7%
High Income 4.3% 11.8% 23.9%
Mean Household Income $39,943 $52,818 $78,526
% Unemployment 18.0% 10.1% 6.6%
% Poverty 38.4% 19.7% 6.2%

Only 5.5% of residents of upstate metropolitan census tracts are of Hispanic descent.  So, even in those places where there are relatively high Hispanic concentrations, they make up only a minority of residents.  In the neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of Hispanic residents, on average 30% of residents were Hispanic, compared with 36% Black/African-American and 27.5% White (not Hispanic).


Like people who identify as Black/African American, Hispanic households most often have low incomes (66%).  About 30% of Hispanic households in upstate urban areas are middle income, while 4% are high income households.  When neighborhoods including high and average concentrations of Hispanics are combined – 70% of all Hispanics, their average income reached $49,642, lower than the average income of those who identify is white, not Hispanic, but higher than that of people who identify as black or African American (40,176).

Neighborhoods with high concentrations of Hispanics had high levels of unemployment (18%).  The concentration of poverty in neighborhoods with high concentrations of Hispanic residents (38.4%) was slightly higher than that of low income neighborhoods and those with high concentrations of black/African-American residents.

Census Tracts with High Concentrations of White Residents

Upstate Metropolitan Census Tracts – 2014
Sorted by Percentage of White Residents
High Concentration Medium Concentration Low Concentration
  30% of all White Residents 40% of all White Residents 30% of all White Residents
%White 96.2% 89.8% 55.8%
%Black 0.7% 2.9% 25.6%
%Hispanic 1.5% 3.1% 9.6%
White Residents  662,506  922,262  707,720
All Residents  688,680  1,014,263  1,267,255
Low Income 24.7% 26.2% 46.7%
Medium Income 49.5% 48.9% 40.3%
High Income 25.8% 24.9% 13.0%
Mean Household Income $80,921 $80,710 $55,793
% Unemployment 6.3% 5.9% 10.6%
% Poverty 4.4% 4.7% 20.5%

Neighborhoods with high concentrations of white residents look very different from those with high concentrations of black or Hispanic residents, and from the average of all residents.  Thirty percent of all white (non-Hispanic) residents live in neighborhoods that average 96% white, with less than one percent of black residents, and 1.5% of Hispanic residents.  Overall, 77% of residents of upstate metropolitan areas are white, 12% are black and 5.5% Hispanic.


They also differ significantly in their economic characteristics.  About 75% of residents of neighborhoods with high concentrations of white residents have middle or high incomes.  For black and Hispanic residents, the corresponding percentage is 35%.  The median household income for neighborhoods with 70% of all white residents of upstate urban neighborhoods is more than $80,000, compared with $40,176 for neighborhoods with 70% of all black residents, and 49,642 for neighborhoods with 70% of Hispanic residents.

The average unemployment percentage in 2014 in neighborhoods with high concentrations of white residents was 6.3%, compared with 20% in black neighborhoods, and 18% in neighborhoods with high concentrations of Hispanic residents.  Very few residents of neighborhoods with high concentrations of white residents lived in poverty in 2014 – 4%.  For black neighborhoods, the percentage was 34% and for neighborhoods with high concentrations of Hispanics, the percentage was 38%.

Concentrations of Residents by Neighborhood Types

Chart 1.

black hispanic white 

Chart one shows that blacks and Hispanics are particularly overrepresented in the upstate metropolitan neighborhoods where they lived in 2014.  65% of blacks lived in neighborhoods with more than twice the overall percentage of blacks in upstate metropolitan counties.  Forty percent of blacks live in neighborhoods with more than four times their overall percentage.  Forty percent of Hispanics live in neighborhoods where they are more than twice their overall percentage in upstate metropolitan counties.

Chart 2

ratio of races


Chart two shows the concentration of the group populations in each census tract, sorted by the concentration of group population.  It shows that black and Hispanic populations are far more concentrated than low income, high income and white populations. While most blacks and many hispanics live in neighborhoods with more than twice their overall concentration, almost all low and high income households live in neighborhoods that are less than twice as concentrated as the overall low and high income households in upstate metropolitan counties.


In earlier posts, I pointed out disparities in poverty and income between upstate cities and their suburbs, and between white, black and Hispanic residents.  This research extends the analysis to the neighborhood level, and shows that residents with low incomes, black and Hispanic residents are separated by neighborhood from a substantial majority of white residents.  Most white residents live in neighborhoods that have fewer than 5% black and Hispanic residents.  In contrast, 70% of all black residents live in neighborhoods that have more than 60% minority residents, despite the fact that blacks make up 12% of the population of upstate urban neighborhoods.

Equally important, the economic conditions of neighborhoods with high concentrations of black and Hispanic residents closely resemble those of low income neighborhoods.  Black and Hispanic neighborhoods have percentages of low income residents, unemployment levels, and percentages of households in poverty that are very similar to poor upstate urban neighborhoods.  The next post will provide some additional documentation of the economic differences between census tracts with high concentrations of minority group members and those which are primarily white.

The fact that neighborhoods with high concentrations of black/African-American residents are more separated from neighborhoods with high concentrations of white residents than predominantly low income neighborhoods are separated from high income neighborhoods suggests the continuing need to address the racial separation of upstate residents as well as the prevalence of low income neighborhoods if upstate is to remove the barriers that separate its residents.

Income Inequality and Minority Group Status in Upstate Metropolitan Areas

In an earlier post, I pointed out that residents of upstate metropolitan areas actually have incomes that are somewhat higher than the average for other cities in the so called “rust belt” – cities located in the old manufacturing regions of the Northeast and Midwest. But, the largest upstate cities – Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse have greater concentrations of poverty than average, while their suburbs have lower levels of poverty than comparable cities, creating a high degree of economic segregation.

Minority group status and location within an upstate central city are strongly related to economic disadvantage. Large income differences exist between minority group residents of central cities, and white residents.  Nationally, the median[1] family income was $68,426 in 2014.  Nationally, black/African-American families averaged $42,711, while families identifying as Hispanic or Latino averaged $44,013.  Families identifying as white (not Hispanic or Latino) averaged $73,974.[2]  But in one upstate city, the median income for Hispanic and Latino families was only $18,149, while in the suburbs of another upstate city, white[3] families averaged $91,693.

Median Family Incomes in Upstate Cities

Median Family Income – 2014
Black Hispanic White
Albany  $39,077 $29,268 $84,422
Buffalo  $29,155 $21,803 $55,516
Rochester  $28,752 $23,717 $56,178
Utica  $22,975 $18,149 $51,043
Syracuse  $27,902 $23,438 $57,246
Troy  $21,563 $20,061 $60,843
Schenectady  $27,338 $25,111 $62,818

There is a large gap between the median incomes of minority families in upstate cities and those of minorities nationally, and a huge gap between minority incomes in upstate cities and those of white residents of those cities – the median income of whites in upstate cities is two to three times that of blacks and Hispanics.  To give a sense of just how poorly minority families are doing in upstate cities, in every city, except for black families in Albany, minority median family incomes are below what would be earned by a worker making the minimum wage proposed by the Governor – $15 per hour, working 40 hours each week.

In five of seven upstate cities, the median incomes of white families were more than twice those of Black and Hispanic residents.  In Buffalo and Rochester, white median incomes were 1.9 times those of black residents, and more than two times those of Hispanics.

In each upstate city, except Albany, the median income of black families was less than half of the national median.  In two cities – Utica and Troy, the median income for black families was one-third of the national median.  For Hispanic families in Utica, the median family income was only one quarter of the national median for all races/ethnicities.  In Buffalo and Troy, the median family income for Hispanics was less than one third of the national median for all races.  White families in upstate cities had median incomes that were below the national median for all races in most cases (except Albany, which was above the national median.  But in each case, median incomes of white city families ranged from 75% to 90% of the national median.

Compared to the median income for all black families in America ($42,711), black families in upstate cities had substantially lower median incomes.  The average black family income median in upstate cities was $28,019.  In Troy, black families had a median income of $21,563, only half of the national median. In Utica, the median income for black families ($22,975) was only 54% of the national black family median.

The picture was just as grim for Hispanic families living in upstate cities.  For Hispanic families, the average upstate median income was $22,047.  In Utica, the the median income for Hispanic families – $18,149 – was only 40% of the national median for Hispanic families, and only 26.5% of the national median for all races and ethnicities.  In Buffalo and Troy, median Hispanic family incomes were less than half of the median income for all Hispanic families in the nation. Hispanic families in Troy and Buffalo had median incomes that were less than one third of the median income for all races and ethnicities.

Median Family Incomes Outside Upstate Cities

 Families living outside central cities in upstate counties had substantially higher median incomes than central city residents – regardless of racial or ethnic background.  In the case of blacks and Hispanics, suburban families had median incomes that were approximately twice those of black and Hispanic families in cities.  But, racial and ethnic differences were significant in suburban areas as well – minority families had median incomes that were substantially lower than those of white families.

Note that the estimates of median family incomes outside central cities have been estimated from available county and city median income data.[4]  Most residents of the counties where upstate cities are located live outside the cities.  Even outside the cities, there are significant disparities between the median incomes of minority and white families.  However, median incomes for minority and white families within counties outside central cities are significantly higher than those in the cities.

Median Family Income – 2014
Outside City Black Hispanic White
Albany  $67,400  $78,594  $91,693
Buffalo  $39,001  $44,463  $77,996
Rochester  $44,716  $44,179  $81,432
Utica  $50,785  $34,792  $70,457
Syracuse  $48,187  $57,778  $80,714
Troy  $47,521  $67,381  $84,992
Schenectady  $65,062  $52,505  $88,674

Black families in outside of central cities in upstate counties had median incomes ranging from $39,001 in Erie County, outside of Buffalo, to $67,400 in Albany County outside of Albany, averaging $51,810.  While these incomes were substantially below those of white suburban residents – for example the median income for white families in Albany County outside Albany was $91,693, and $77,996 in Erie County outside Buffalo, they were substantially above the median incomes for black families in central cities.  For example, the median income for black families in the city of Albany was $39,077, while in Buffalo, it was $29,155. On average, the median incomes of white families living outside central cities in upstate counties was 62.8% higher than that of black families.

The median family income of black families living outside upstate cities was lower than that of all families nationally – ranging form 57% of the national median in Buffalo to 99% of the median in Albany.  Compared to the national median income for black families ($42,711) black families living outside central cities median incomes were higher in all upstate counties, except Erie County outside Buffalo.

For Hispanics, the pattern was similar.  Hispanic family median incomes averaged $54,342 in counties outside upstate central cities. Hispanic families in Utica had a median income of $18,149, but Hispanic families outside Utica had a median income of $34,792. The median income of white families living in Oneida County outside Utica was $70,457.  On average, the median incomes of white families living outside central cities in upstate counties was 59.1% higher than for Hispanic families.  Hispanic families living in upstate counties outside central cities, other than in Oneida County outside Utica, had median incomes that were higher than the national median for Hispanics.

Where Minority and White Families Live

 Given that most residents of upstate metropolitan counties live outside central cities; a reader might conclude that because minority families living in suburban communities have substantially higher incomes than minority families, there are many minority families who have relatively high incomes.  In fact, the level of residential segregation is very high in suburbs outside upstate central cities.  Minority families make up very small percentages of suburban populations in upstate metropolitan areas.

Percent of Population
Outside City Black Hispanic
Albany 2.7% 2.7%
Buffalo 3.3% 2.0%
Rochester 4.3% 3.0%
Utica 0.9% 1.0%
Syracuse 2.3% 1.8%
Troy 0.9% 2.0%
Schenectady 1.4% 1.4%

In the counties surrounding upstate cities, minority families make up substantially less than 10% of families – in Oneida County, less than 2% of all families.  Outside Syracuse, only 2.3% of families identified themselves as black/African-American, while 1.8% identified themselves as Hispanic. Outside Rochester, 4.3% of families identified themselves as black and 3% of families were Hispanics.  These numbers stand in stark contrast to the percentage of minority families in upstate cities.

Percent of Population
Central City Black Hispanic
Albany 35.2% 8.0%
Buffalo 40.5% 10.4%
Rochester 44.8% 18.2%
Utica 13.6% 10.0%
Syracuse 33.4% 8.0%
Troy 16.6% 8.8%
Schenectady 19.0% 9.7%

While 7.4% of families living in Monroe County, outside Rochester were blacks or Hispanics, 63% of Rochester families were members of these minority groups.  In Syracuse, 41% of families were black or Hispanic, while in Onondaga County, outside Syracuse only 4.2% of families were black or Hispanic.


 Upstate New York metropolitan areas are not post-racial communities. White families living outside of central cities in upstate counties are the majority of county families. Minority group members constitute a tiny fraction of suburban populations.  Median incomes of white families living in suburban communities are substantially higher than the medians for all families and for white families nationally.

Minority families are concentrated in central cities – few enjoy the benefits of suburban housing and school systems. Typical black and Hispanic families bear a heavy burden of economic inequality. Median family incomes for minority city residents are very low – only one quarter to one third of the median incomes of white suburban residents.

The contrast between the relative affluence of suburban families and minority residents of central cities is extreme.  Consider that in Rochester, the median black family income was $28,752 in 2014 and of Hispanic families $23,717 while white families in Monroe County outside Rochester had a median income of $81,432.  In Schenectady, the median income for black families was 27,338 and for Hispanic families $25,111, but the median for white families in Schenectady County was $88,674.

The causes of minority group members’ privation have been discussed elsewhere – weak educational backgrounds that lead to limited job-skills, single parent families that can’t get good jobs, high levels of incarceration, and limited access to public transportation, among others.  There are no easy solutions to these problems, but there are many approaches to helping low income people in central cities.  Among them are:

  • Strengthen early child development interventions that promote better parenting, and provide more resources to help low income families access early childhood education options.
  • Help low income parents access better child care options by providing access to all disadvantaged children.
  • Consider adopting classroom management approaches used by successful charter schools in center city public schools.
  • Reduce the concentration of economically disadvantaged students in central cities though strategies like inter-district magnet schools.
  • Employ “dual-generation” assistance models for low income families that integrate a range of health, social and other services in local schools.
  • Leaders should emphasize to targeted audiences how difficult it is to raise children without a committed co-parent.
  • Offer a range of birth control measures, including long acting forms for free.
  • Strengthen SNAP (food stamp) administration. Because of wide variability in food stamp usage rates among eligible populations, consider state administration and increase the number of sites for in-person verification.
  • Consider providing a state supplement to the SNAP program to ensure more adequate support for nutrition.
  • Enhance support for community college programs that provide industry specific skills in high demand fields.
  • Support efforts to provide community college training with flexible class scheduling, and short modules outside traditional AA or certificate programs.
  • Increase or supplement the Earned Income Tax Credit – the program is an effective work incentive. Increasing benefits would provide more adequate support for low income families.
  • Expand or supplement the Child Tax Credit – make it fully refundable.
  • Consider increasing the minimum wage. Though trade-offs are likely in the form of increased unemployment if the minimum wage is raised to $15, a more moderate increase would provide a better balance between assisting low income workers, and potential lost jobs.
  • Address the negative impacts of high levels of incarceration in the minority male population. Consider ways to reduce the impact of “stop and frisk” policing strategies, reduce penalties for non-violent crimes, reduce barriers to employment for those who have completed prison sentences.
  • Focus on developing better public transit access to work sites and community college locations for central city residents.

Despite the stark reality of the economic and residential segregation of minority groups in upstate metropolitan areas, little attention has been paid to this problem at the state level.  The question is why political leaders haven’t made the economic deprivation of minority residents of central city residents a top policy priority, and how the needs of low income inner city residents can become a priority for them.

[1] The income at which half the families have greater incomes and half the families have incomes that are lower.

[2] Source:  U. S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey – 2014-2010, 5 year average data.

[3] Henceforth I will refer to voters who identify as “white, not Hispanic or Latino” as “white.”

[4] The products of median incomes and the number of families were calculated for counties and cities.  City totals were subtracted from county totals, and the result divided from the number of outside city families to derive median income estimates for outside city families.

Single Parents and Child and Family Poverty in Upstate Cities

In an earlier post, I showed that very high percentages of people with children under 18 lived in poverty in upstate cities, and that the percentage increased significantly between 1999 and 2013.  While a few rust belt cities, like Flint and Detroit, Michigan had higher levels of poverty among people with children, poverty in cities like Syracuse, Rochester,  exceeded 50%, while in cities like Buffalo, Utica, Binghamton, Troy and Schenectady, it exceeded 40% in 2013. Overall, upstate New York cities had higher percentages of families with children living in poverty than the average for the rust belt.  In 1999, less than 40% of people with children in each of those cities lived in poverty.

What most distinguished upstate New York Cities from other cities with high poverty rates was the fact that the suburbs of upstate cities were quite prosperous – particularly compared to the suburbs around other placed, like Flint and Detroit, that had high poverty levels.  In fact, only about 11% of residents with children under 18 of counties outside upstate central cities lived in poverty in 2013, less than the average for rust belt counties outside central cities.

Picture1Historically there has been evidence of a strong association between family structure and the likelihood of living in poverty.  That relationship has existed in upstate cities, as well.  In upstate cities, 70% to nearly 90% of families with children living in poverty were single parent households in both 1999 and 2013.

single parent percent of all

Given the fact that the likelihood that single parent families constituted similar percentages of those in poverty in each year, what accounted for the growth of poverty in upstate cities between 1999 and 2013?  The answers lie in changes in the concentration of poverty in upstate cities that are associated with population change.

The next chart shows the change in the number of families living below the poverty level in upstate cities:

change percent poverty type

Each city, with the exception of Albany, saw an increase in the percentage of people living in poverty, and most saw increases both in single parent and married families living in poverty.  More significant, however, were the changes in families not living in poverty.

change percent not poverty type

Each city had significant losses in the number of families with children living above the poverty line.  Most important here was the change in married families living above the poverty line, since most families above the poverty line have been married families.  Each city saw a large decrease in married families above the poverty line – as much as 46% in Rochester, 45% in Troy and 42% in Syracuse.  So, the most important factor in understanding the increase in the concentration of poverty in upstate cities is the loss of population above the poverty line.  And, since the population decreases were largest in married families living above poverty, upstate cities are increasingly home to single parent families living below the poverty line.

What Can be Done?

While the nation has had success in reducing teen pregnancy nationally, the data from shows that between 1999 and 2013 the percentage of families with children headed by single parents in poverty as a percentage of all families with children sharply increased in upstate cities.  Because single parents lack the benefits of two incomes, in many cases, and because of the time challenges faced by single parents in raising children and working, the decline of married households is concerning.  Although absent fathers are legally required to provide child support, often both parents live below the poverty line, and the absent fathers lack the resources to meaningfully contribute to the support of their children.  So, one basic element of any assistance strategy is to find ways to provide more income to both custodial parents, and the non-custodial partners of the heads of households with children in poverty.  Such an approach must focus both on ensuring that adequate government financial assistance is available to meet basic needs, and to help low income parents find better jobs.

The prevalence of single parent families and parents with low levels of education in upstate central cities points to the need to develop support mechanisms for these families and children that will encourage long term goal oriented behavior, and remove obstacles to self-sufficiency. Approaches that should be considered include:

Family centered “Dual Generation” approaches.  Current programs and policies often focus on either children or parents.[1]   Dual generation approaches focus on parental education and skill development, and childhood learning and development.  Several emphasize the impacts of childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences.  See for example,

Promote Married Families: Since there is strong evidence that children living in single parent families do less well in life, promoting married families is an important way to attack one of the major factors associated with poverty.  The Brookings/AEI report, “Opportunity, Responsibility and Security” argues, “Political leaders, educators and civic leaders – from both the political left and right – need to be clear and direct about how hard it is to raise children without a committed co-parent.”  The report argues for a campaign of similar scope to those used to combat teen pregnancy and the consequences of unplanned sex to encourage marriage.[2]

Birth Control Programs:  Another important element of a strategy to encourage delayed, responsible parenting is the use of birth control programs that offer “a range of birth control measures, including long acting forms, and provide the services free…[These programs] can substantially reduce pregnancy rates among sexually active couples, including teen age and low income couples, and enable them to avoid or plan childbearing.”[3]

Strengthen Food Stamp Administration and Benefits:  New York State, participation rates in the SNAP (food stamp) program vary significantly, according to data from the New York Times, ranging from 21% of potential recipients in 2009 in Putnam County to 93% in Montgomery County.  The wide variation in rates, which averaged about 60% of potential recipients, suggests the need for greater efforts to increase participation, perhaps by moving from county to state administration, or by increasing supervision of county efforts, or by mandating the availability more sites (such as local schools) where in person verification of eligibility is required.[4]

Additionally, there is evidence that the existing food stamp assistance levels create food scarcity among low-income recipients.  Benefits under current law are based on the USDA’s “thrifty food plan” which has been criticized for requiring the use of impractical foods, lacks the variety required to meet healthy dieting guidelines, unrealistically assumes adequate facilities and time for food preparation from scratch, unrealistically assumes food availability and affordability in central city locations.[5]

The Urban Institute estimates that increasing the current SNAP benefit by 30% to bring benefits to the USDA low cost food plan level from the thrifty food plan level would reduce child poverty by 16.2%. While the SNAP program is federally funded, New York could supplement the existing federal benefit.  Note that the Urban Institute was based on the level of food stamp benefits available from 2009 to 2013, which have subsequently been reduced by 5%, so the actual impact of the proposed increase would be somewhat larger than estimated.[6]

[1] See:  Two (or More) Generation Frameworks:  A Look Across and Within, Janice M. Gruendel, Ph, D., M. Ed., March, 2014

[2] “Opportunity, Responsibility and Security,” op. cit. pp. 33-34.

[3] Ibid,

[4]“County-by-County Review of SNAP/Food Stamp Participation,  Food Research and Action Center, Washington, DC,

[5] “Replacing the Thrifty Food Plan in Order to Provide Adequate Allotments for SNAP Beneficiaries.”  Food Research and Action Center, Washington, DC, 2012.


[6] Reducing Poverty in the United States – Results of a Microsimulation Analysis of the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute Policy Package, Kye Lippold,  Urban Institute, March 2015.