46% of New Yorkers Live in or Near Poverty: What Can Be Done About It?

Almost Half of New Yorkers Are Struggling To Get By, According To Study

While the percentage of people living under the poverty line in New York City has remained about the same since the recession (21.4%), a study compiled by the Center for Economic Opportunity finds that in 2011, 46% of New Yorkers were making less than 150% of the poverty threshold, which means that nearly half of us are struggling to get by—providing more evidence that the definition of “living wage” is in desperate need of a makeover.

The study also implies that those cheery numbers about lowering unemployment rates are kinda bogus. Sure, more people have found jobs, but they’re working for lower wages, and even among those lucky enough to hold full-time positions, 8% are still living in poverty. And if there’s a family to support, it’s worse: 17% of families with one full-time worker lived in poverty. Families with two full-time workers fared better, but not much, with 5.2% still living in poverty.

But what is “poverty,” exactly? According to the city’s definition, a family of two adults and two children is defined as poor if their combined income was equal to or less than $31,039, which applies to 21.4% of New Yorkers. (For reference, the federal definition is $23,283, which, it should be noted, qualifies 20% of New York City residents. That the difference between families of four making $23,000 and $31,000 is so small speaks to the city’s even larger problem of the widening gap between extreme wealth and extreme poverty.)

The most notable aspect of the study’s findings, however, was that 46% of New Yorkers were making less than 150% of the poverty threshold, meaning that nearly half of families with two adults and two children were making less than $46,558 per year. The poverty threshold is different depending on the number of adults and children in a household, but the 46% figure takes these differences into account.

The numbers were presented to City Council yesterday and will affect Mayor de Blasio’s future policies regarding paid sick leave, identification cards that will provide immigrants with access to government services, raising the minimum wage, giving city residents preferential treatment in public works jobs, after-school programs and universal pre-K, reports the Times.

At the moment, it appears that the latter of these is de Blasio’s top priority—UPKNYC.com, which directs parents to the application for free, public preschool is the only website mentioned on his Twitter page, and is the major issue around which he centered his campaign. We have mixed feelings about it, due to the fact that universal pre-K doesn’t allow for much workday flexibility, nor will it remedy the problems of the neediest of city families now that more middle-class parents are signing their children up for public school. And as for the proposed “millionaire’s tax” that was supposed to fund universal pre-K, well, Cuomo killed it.

So what is to be done? de Blasio’s measures are a good start to a problem that he “got elected almost entirely on,” deputy mayor Anthony E. Shorris told the Timesbut if Albany keeps forestalling funding, there’s only so much money that can be moved around. As much as the media loves the shaky “bromance” between de Blasio and state officials, what matters is whether that relationship can bring aid to the exceptional issues that face half of New York City’s 8.4 million residents, which make up 40% of the entire population of the state.

One hopeful example of de Blasio’s anti-poverty measures is his housing plan that will create or preserve 200,000 affordable units in the next ten years, details for which are expected to be released tomorrow, but sources told WNYC that the plan may contain an increase in allocations to affordable housing from $5 to $10 billion over the next decade, a law that could require real estate developers who use tax incentive programs to create more cheaper housing, money for renovating existing affordable housing and better homeless services.

But finally, some silver lining to shine through this data equivalent of today’s weather: The study found that Brooklyn was the only borough to see a decline in its poverty rate between 2011 and 2012. So… yay?

 Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa

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