One in Five New Yorkers Living in Poverty, Data Show

By Jill Colvin on September 23, 2011 7:49am 

 A man looks through a trash dumpster on September 14, 2011 in New York City. New Census Bureau figures released today reveal that 3.08 million people in New York State were living in poverty in 2010, or 16 percent, up from 15.8 percent in 2009.
A man looks through a trash dumpster on September 14, 2011 in New York City. New Census Bureau figures released today reveal that 3.08 million people in New York State were living in poverty in 2010, or 16 percent, up from 15.8 percent in 2009.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

CITY HALL — A disturbing one in five New Yorkers was living in poverty in 2010, according to new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau that show the lasting wave of hardship the recession has left in its wake.

More than 1.6 million city residents — 20.1 percent — were living in poverty last year, up from 18.7 percent in 2009, according to data from the 2010 American Community Survey released Thursday.

That 1.4 percent increase — the highest in years — significantly outpaced the rest of the nation, where poverty rose from 14.3 percent to 15.1 percent from 2009 to 2010, the data show.

“These are not the numbers that we would have wanted to see,” said Mark Levitan, director of poverty research at the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity, who said the figures stand in contrast to previous reports that had shown the city weathering the economic crisis better than most.

But this time around, the numbers are grim. Median family income slipped from $57,000 to $53,600 a year, while unemployment rose by one point to 11.2 percent.

The picture was even bleaker for children, 30 percent of whom were living below the poverty line in 2010, up from 27 percent a year before. Nationwide the child poverty rate stands at 21.6 percent.

There was also a striking difference between races in the city, with 23 percent of African Americans and a troubling 28 percent of Hispanics living in poverty in 2010, versus just 15 percent of whites.

A more positive report appeared to be in Manhattan, where the poverty rate actually decreased slightly from 16.6 percent in 2009 to 16.4 in 2010. The child poverty rate also fell from 24.5 percent to 22 percent from year to year, the numbers show.

The divide between Hispanics and African Americans was also less pronounced in the borough, where 26 percent of both African Americans and Hispanics were living below the poverty line in 2010, versus about 11 percent of whites.

Nonetheless, critics were quick to jump on the mayor for the city’s slip.

"Morally and economically, the statistics released today are unacceptable,” slammed Living Wage NYC, a group that has been lobbying the administration to mandate higher wages on certain city-funded projects.

“The Bloomberg administration’s economic policy has prioritized the interests of corporations and developers, and neglected the needs of most New Yorkers," the group said. "This aristocratic agenda of protecting the rich and ignoring the most vulnerable has clearly failed countless New Yorkers across the city."

The mayor, meanwhile, blamed a still-struggling economy for bringing the city down.

“I think one of the problems you have in the city today is just there is a world-wide recession,” he told reporters at an unrelated press conference on the Lower East Side.

He argued the city has one of the strongest social safety nets in the country, and said the administration is constantly looking for new ways to help create jobs and provide assistance to those who are working but still can’t make ends meet.

Human Resources Administration Commissioner Robert Doar also took aim at the Census Bureau's methodology, arguing that the poverty numbers are “badly flawed” because they fail to take into account certain types of social assistance, like food stamps, Section 8 housing and the earned income tax credit.

Nonetheless, he said the numbers are a wake-up call.

“This is not something we take lightly and we’re going to continue to redouble our efforts to help people," he said.

Numbers released last week by the Census Bureau showed that the national poverty rate had hit its highest level since 1993.

The national poverty line for a family of four in 2010 was $22,314. The national median household income was $49,445 — a 2.3 percent decline from 2009.

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