By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer

More than 20 percent of children ages 5-17 in Oneida County were living in poverty in 2010, with increased numbers since 2007 in seven of the county’s 14 public school districts, according to U.S. Census Bureau data issued Tuesday.

In the county’s two largest districts, Rome had about 21 percent of students in that age group in families in poverty in 2010, while Utica had nearly 37 percent.

While those districts’ percentages declined from 2007, a county official cautioned today that the census estimates involve large margins of error in terms of comparing changes over a relatively narrow three-year period.

Overall, "it’s still quite high" regarding the county’s student poverty figures in 2007 and 2010, said Dale Miller, a principal county planner who oversees the county’s census data affiliate. Utica and Rome "tend to have the highest concentration of kids in poverty," as an outgrowth of their more concentrated populations compared to the rest of the county, he said. Such concentrations can relate to lower incomes as people with limited resources tend to live closer to where various basic services are available, he explained.

The Census Bureau said the poverty rate for school-age children showed a statistically significant increase in about 20 percent of counties across the U.S. between 2007 and 2010. The 2007 year was compared because it was a "pre-recessionary year," the bureau said.

Children ages 5-17 in poverty included 19.8 percent nationally in 2010, up from 16.4 percent in 2007, along with about 20 percent in New York State in 2010 which was up from 18.2 percent, according to reports. Oneida County surpassed those totals, including about 22 percent in 2010 and 24 percent in 2007, Miller said.

Similarly, the neighboring South Lewis school district in Lewis County had nearly 21 percent of children in that age group in poverty in 2010, and about 23 percent in 2007.

The poverty issues are "all over. It’s not just us," commented Rome Board of Education President Patricia Riedel. The Rome district is "well aware...we’re a high needs district," and "we do the best we can for all of our students" including efforts to address students in need, she said. Students from economically disadvantaged families often may experience more academic difficulties because they may lack the overall support and resources available in better-off families, she added.

"We’re aware we have a considerable number of students living in poverty," said Riedel, noting the impact of various local job losses in recent years such as the Rite Aid warehouse closing and other business cutbacks. About 50 percent of the student lunches served in the district are at free or reduced prices, based on family incomes, she observed.

Official poverty levels are defined by the Census Bureau based on household sizes and income. For example, for a family of four that includes two children under 18, the annual income poverty level is $22,113 or below. The level rises to $26,023 for a family of five including three such children.

Regarding Oneida County’s slight decline from 2007 to 2010 for children in poverty compared to increases at state and national levels, Miller said that besides margins of error, the county tends to "sway not as much" when national indicators change, based in part on longstanding difficult conditions locally.