Sobering demographics, We’re all worse off

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Kent GardnerIn its release of 2010 estimates for Monroe County, the Census Bureau confirmed what we perceive: We’re all worse off.

As year-to-year variation is less reliable, I compare the 2010 American Community Survey estimates to the 2000 Census—the “long form.”

  • Median household income fell about 20% over the decade. Adjusted for inflation, the 2009 figure reported in the 2010 report—about $45,000—is 78% of the nearly $58,000 figure from 1999.
  • Per capita income didn’t decline as much—about 9% to about $27,000 (from an inflation-adjusted $29,000).
  • The increased incidence of poverty is also troubling:
    • Family poverty rate from 8.2% to 11.1%
    • Poverty rate for families with children under 18 rose from 13.1% to 18.6%
    • Similarly, persons in poverty rose from 11.2% to 15.4% but children in poverty rose even more, from 15.5% to 22.2%

  • Clearly the distribution of income became less equal over the decade. Yet the easy “rich got richer & poor got poorer” story isn’t complete.  As has been noted at the national level, incomes fell throughout the income distribution. Census Bureau reports income ranges according to the same scale, despite inflation, so the distribution analysis takes some calculating. Roughly, here are the income “breaks” by population quartiles:
Households ALL in current dollars
1999 2009
bottom quartile $30,000 $25,000
50% $52,000 $50,000
75% $97,000 $88,000
90% $166,000 $138,000
95% $189,000 $175,000
median income $58,000 $45,000

Thus to reach ¼ of the population in 1999 required an income threshold of $30,000, dropping to $25,000 in 2009. 95% of the population was captured with an upper income limit of $175,000. Incomes up to $189,000 were required to capture 95% of households in 1999.

What happened?

Feels like we’ve collectively been hit by a truck, doesn’t it? The obvious explanations are the most likely:

  • We’ve still not recovered from the worst recession of the post WWII period. While recent statistics have been flat, not declining, the possibility that the economy will weaken instead of strengthen is real.
  • The impact of global competition on labor markets shifted up the skills ladder during this decade. Most of the jobs lost to global competitors were unskilled and semiskilled well into the 1990s. Only during the aughts did we begin to lose white collar jobs to India, China and other nations.
  • Finally, the Rochester area saw Kodak’s shrinkage kick into high gear. Film sales continued to increase through the 90s, only beginning a long-anticipated decline in 2000. While Kodak was shrinking through the period, a portion of the jobs eliminated were actually transferred from Kodak to the business services sector through subcontracts. Other manufacturers—historically the region’s highest paying employers—continued to aggressively pursue improved productivity. Final statistic:  Census reports that total manufacturing employment fell by 31,000 over the decade, from 21% of all jobs to about 13%. Much of the “take up” of these jobs—23,000 of them—was in Education, Health Care and Social Assistance.
  • For more from the Census, see http://factfinder2.census.gov/main.html

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