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City Poverty Level Rises, As Gap Widens Between Rich and Poor

By Jill Colvin | September 20, 2012 9:18pm

NEW YORK CITY — Nearly 21 percent of New Yorkers were living in poverty in 2011, according to bleak new numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday, showing a growing divide between the rich and the poor.

Nearly 1.7 million New Yorkers were living in poverty last year, up from 1.6 million residents — or 20.1 percent of the population — in 2010, the latest American Community Survey shows.

The numbers also show that the chasm between the rich and the poor continues to deepen. While the median income for the bottom fifth of New Yorkers dropped to just $8,844 in 2011, the households in the top fifth brought in $223,285.

The disparity was even starker in Manhattan, where the top fifth earned $391,022, versus just $9,681 for the lowest fifth — meaning the wealthiest New Yorkers now make more than 40 times as much as the poorest — a disparity that rivals many third-world nations, observers noted.

The picture was even harsher for children, 30 percent of whom were living below the poverty line last year, the survey said.

Median household income also fell to $49,461, down more than $800 since 2010, while unemployment and food stamp use soared.

“Today's numbers are a clear demonstration of the economic wreckage the recession has left in its wake, and the human toll is evident in the growing lines at food pantries and soup kitchens across our city,” said Margarette Purvis, president of the Food Bank For New York City, who said emergency food providers have been struggling to meet "unprecedented" demand.

The numbers also showed deep racial disparities, with just 15.8 percent of whites living in poverty in the city, compared to 23.7 percent of African Americans and 30 percent of Latinos.

Poverty rates also increased the most among Latinos, whose poverty level jumped from 27.9 percent the previous year — more than any other group.

The figures also revealed that nearly three-quarters of a million people in the city were living at less than half the poverty level in 2011. Last year's poverty level for a family of four was $23,021. 

The news was cause for alarm for many elected officials, including City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents Upper Manhattan, which has a large Latino population.

“This is the issue of our time, for both our city and this country," he said of the income gap. "If we do not take steps to decrease this gaping disparity, all parties will suffer."