Opportunities sluggish in region; behind state, national levels•
When it comes to the opportunities available to local residents, one bipartisan organization finds the Mohawk Valley to be average at best.
The Opportunity Index, created by Operation Nation in conjunction with the Social Science Research Council, gave Oneida County a “C+” and Herkimer County a “C” for the opportunities they provide in the areas of jobs and the economy, education, and community health and civic life.
Both counties overall opportunity scores (50.6 for Oneida County and 46.3 for Herkimer County, out of a scale of 100) were behind the state (58.4) and national (54) averages.
Operation Nation is a politically independent organization according their website. It is dedicated to keeping U.S. media and government honest. The Social Science Research Council is an independent, nonprofit organization seeking to advance social science worldwide.
“When I look at where we fared worse, those are areas that are generic throughout Upstate New York,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, who pointed out that the index found the county to have a lower unemployment rate, less violent crime and more banking institutions than the state and national averages.
“Nothing there is unique to Oneida County — median income, kids in preschool, the number of doctors and grocers — those are basic stats that are common throughout the region and don’t really give me cause for alarm. I think it’s kind of unfair how these organizations categorize us.”
While the median household income in both counties is lower than the state and national averages, the percent of the population below the poverty line for the counties is on par with state and national figures, and the percentage of households spending less than 30 percent of their income on housing costs well exceeds them.
As far as education, while Oneida County fares slightly better, both counties are well off the state average for the percent of 3 and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, and for the percent of those 25 and older who have obtained an associate degree or higher.
Herkimer County Administrator James Wallace said the county is addressing the fact that only 33.7 percent of its 3 and 4-year-olds are in preschool through its Best Start committee and a grant it received from the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York.
He also pointed out that for the past few years the Legislature has funded all high school juniors and seniors to enroll in Herkimer County Community College’s College Now program that encourages them to receive their associate degree.
“We are addressing a lot of the issues that (this index) brings up,” Wallace said. “We need to continue to work within the region to create the atmosphere where companies will come here. By doing such, we believe that more of our youth will stay because there is no better place to raise a family.”