The latest poverty rates for New York City are in. More than three years into the economic recovery the poverty rate remains high at 21.2 percent, statistically unchanged from 2011 when it was 20.9 percent. Over 1.7 million New Yorkers lived below the official federal poverty line ($23,314 for a family of four) in 2012.
According to the Census Bureau report, poverty rates were the highest for single mothers, increasing from 40.4 percent (2011) to 43 percent (2012). Of the city’s ethnic groups, Latinos had the highest poverty rate at 29.8 percent. For those without a high school diploma, the poverty rate was 32.6 percent compared to 7.3 percent for those with a four-year college degree.
Of course, for the average person, these are abstract numbers that don’t begin to tell the full story of poverty in our city. That’s one reason why the Community Service Society conducts an annual survey of the city’s low-income population to put these statistics in some perspective. In our most recent survey for 2013* (PDF), we found that more New Yorkers are reporting a rise in hardships, particularly in the areas of housing and food. For example, among poor New Yorkers, the number of people skipping meals because there was not enough money to buy food increased from 21 to 27 percent; there was also an increase in the number of poor New Yorkers falling behind on their rent or mortgage payments – up from 24 percent to 31 percent. And 38 percent of low-income, working women report cuts in wages, tips or hours, up from 28 percent a year ago.
Taken together, the latest poverty rates and our Unheard Third findings suggest that the income gap between the city’s well-off and working poor remains alarmingly wide. Perhaps the best illustration of the jarring income polarization defining our city was reported in Forbes magazine. According to Forbes, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s net worth increased by $6 billion last year. That’s a billion dollars more than the collective incomes of the city’s 1.7 million people living below the federal poverty line.
The point here is not to disparage the mayor, or for that matter the rest of the city’s top ten percent for economic gains realized since the recession. But we can’t ignore the fact that poverty remains high, and has not gone down to its pre-recession levels (18.5 percent). If the situation is to improve, the city’s government, business leaders and the voting public must take a proactive approach. Raising wages and providing benefits such as paid sick days to low-wage workers; providing job training so workers can advance into mid-skill jobs; bolstering programs that help young people get their first job experience; and investing in better schools in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods are just a few ways the city can reverse the trends that are leaving more than a million New Yorkers barely scraping by, while a relative few continue to only get richer.
*For more information on our 2013 survey, including sample size and demographic information, download the PDF.