Former Lt. Governor Robert Duffy penned an op-ed piece in the Rochester Business Journal urging upstate lawmakers to form their own caucus. Doing so would help them press upstate issues in a state legislature dominated by downstate lawmakers.
But upstate New York breaking from downstate entirely? Duffy called the idea "ludicrous."
"If we ever did that, the economic indicators of upstate New York would be among the lowest in the country," Duffy claimed. "We do count on downstate to carry much of the load for the economic health of New York."
Calls for upstate to secede from New York State are not new. But secession gained steam last year when upstate advocates pitched the idea at a protest in the Southern Tier. Some were angry over gun control laws passed in 2013. Others were upset by the ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, because they believe the gas drilling process would boost that region’s struggling economy.
One of the leading secession proponents, the Divide NYS Caucus, hopes for momentum to build ahead of a future Constitutional Convention in New York State. Voters will decide whether to hold a convention in the 2017 general election.
Downstate has a bigger population than upstate. The Assembly is comfortably in the hands of lawmakers from New York City and the surrounding area, most of whom are Democrats. The State Senate, meanwhile, is controlled by Republicans, mostly from upstate and Long Island.
Is Duffy right? Would upstate’s economy rank low on its own? The Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce was not able to tell us which economic indicators Duffy was referring to. We looked at two indicators typically used to measure the economy - unemployment and wages - to check his claim.
The unemployment scorecard
As of July, the statewide unemployment rate was 4.7 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s better than the national average of 4.9 percent. But New York State still ranks 25th in the nation, tied with three other states.
Duffy says the line dividing upstate from downstate is the same used in this year’s minimum wage hike. In that deal, New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County were given a different timeline to reach the higher wage than the rest of the state. Our analysis uses the same method: We define upstate as everything north of New York City except for Westchester County.
There’s no data publicly available that shows unemployment for this definition of upstate. We used county-level data from state and federal databases to evaluate Duffy’s claim.
The unemployment rate in upstate New York is 4.6 percent, according to the latest data from the state Department of Labor. That number is an average of the counties we’ve defined as upstate. That’s better than the statewide average and would rank 23rd in the nation - ahead of the statewide ranking.
The wage scorecard
Income per capita is different than the average wage. It measures how much money someone takes in, whether it’s earned at a job or not, instead of just measuring how much a job pays. We looked at both.
In upstate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the per capita income was $40,123 at the end of 2014, the latest county-level data. Upstate would have ranked 37th in the nation that year, below the national average of $46,049. New York State as a whole ranked fifth that year.
As for wages, only Washington, D.C., had a higher average wage than New York State’s $67,521. The national average is $52,942.
The average wage upstate was $42,287 by the end of 2015, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. If it was its own state, upstate would rank 44th for wages, ahead of South Carolina but behind New Mexico.
Duffy wrote in the Rochester Business Journal that "the economic indicators of upstate New York would be among the lowest in the country" if the region split from downstate.
We compared national data on unemployment and wages to county-level data to rate his claim. With Duffy’s definition of upstate New York, unemployment is close to the national average while wages and income are among the lowest in the country according to the latest data.
We rate this claim as Mostly True.