New York City’s Poverty Rate is on the Rise: Our Statement

David R. Jones

Contact: Jeffrey N. Maclin
(212) 614-5538 (office)
(718) 309-2346 (cell)

Newly-released Census Bureau figures for 2011 show that poverty is increasing especially rapidly among working New Yorkers. Poverty rates in New York City increased to 20.9 percent from 20.1 percent the previous year; nearly a full percentage point. The number of New Yorkers living below the official federal poverty level – $22,811 for a family of four – reached nearly 1.7 million, with close to 75,000 more New Yorkers in poverty compared to the previous year. 

Overall, poverty rates increased for Latinos, the elderly, those with less education, and women.  The largest increase was for Latinos, who saw their poverty rate rise from 27.9 percent to 30 percent.

Most disturbing is the fact that the number of New Yorkers working full-time throughout the year, but remaining in poverty, grew by more than 11,000. This is consistent with the findings of a recent CSS report on unemployment. It found that despite a revival of private sector jobs in the city, most of the growth in post-recession jobs has been in sectors offering no benefits and low wages, undermining work as a path out of poverty. That report also found that older workers and women were struggling to find jobs in the weak recovery, a factor that may help explain rising poverty among those groups.

The new data underline the need for policies to raise the floor for low-wage workers through increasing the state minimum wage and passing paid sick days legislation, so that low-wage workers are not forced to work sick or lose their pay.  In addition, we need to focus more efforts on attracting mid-skill level jobs to the city that pay enough to lift a family out of poverty.

New Yorkers with lower levels of educational attainment continue to have high and growing rates of poverty.  For those without a high school diploma, the poverty rate increased from 30.8 percent in 2010 to 32 percent in 2011.  Given that nearly 1 in 3 New Yorkers without a high school diploma are poor, it is critical that upcoming changes to the GED test do not cause any interruption or reduction in the availability of high school equivalency diplomas.  The poverty rate for New Yorkers with only a high school diploma grew from 18.7 percent in 2010 to 20.4 percent in 2011, highlighting the need to consider recommendations from a recent CSS study of CUNY enrollment trends showing shrinking access to affordable higher education for underrepresented groups, particularly blacks and Latinos.

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