Almost 1.55 Million New Yorkers Live in Poverty; NYC’s Income Gap Between Rich and Poor is Huge

Another wife-sourced article! And another New York article.

Yesterday, the U.S. Census released data showing that the number of New Yorkers living in poverty increased, though the national number dropped. With more than 1.54 million New Yorkers in poverty, that makes it a 2% increase from last year, a change the city attributes to how the data was collected. Still, Mayor Bloomberg said, “Whether the numbers are overstated or understated, there is no question that they are much too high and you have to keep working on finding ways to reduce the poverty level.”

The Census data also shows that the income gap between the New York’s richest fifth and poorest fifth is the biggest in the country. And in Manhattan, the numbers break down to the richest 20% making $351,333 annually versus $8,855 of the poorest 20%.

Gothamist table

I’m not convinced this is even newsworthy, frankly. In that it should not come as a surprise. That very rich people live in New York City is not surprising. Given the size of the city, and the lack of decent rail transport almost anywhere in this country (apropos commuting by rail from even Allentown, Pa. to New York City, a distance many Sydneysiders cover in their commute) it is also not surprising that the servicepeople also live here and, also given the nature of this country, they earn very little. Put them together and you get income inequality.

Apropos homeless and poverty statistics, also: there is an ethnic gradient to income and industry type, meaning that New York’s working poor most likely migrated in ā€“ as will many of the homeless have, either as homeless or inexorably on their way to it. Poor and homeless people, like some/many working poor, may have ‘happened’ to New York, rather than the other way around.

There are two phenomena, here, also, which should not be overlooked: inequality is one thing, but poverty/homelessness is another, and they have different explanations and appropriate policy responses.

This does not mean I don’t think there’s a problem. The welfare state as it exists here is a crime. I would just rather see some more informative description of the problem. The phenomenon, as it is presented here, is belied by its own statistics. There are quite a few non-welfarist explanations for the heterogeneity of workers and incomes in New York City, and the wage disparity does not, in fact, need to be ‘unfair’. While poverty and homelessness is always a failure of society, it too has broader causes ā€“ and, potentially, cures ā€“ that we tend to overlook.

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1 comment so far

  1. michele on

    One thing that is not taken into account (because it is hard to measure) is the increased number of illegal immigrants. They would account for the huge increase. In addition, like Texas, we absorbed a large number of Katrina evacuees from Mississippi & Louisiana who have chosen not to return to their non-existent homes. NYC only started taking note of arrivals after day 3 of receiving these evacuees.

    As you indicated, it is not surprising to anyone who lives here, it is not surprising to anyone who works here. However, I would venture a guess that in 5 years time those stats will be dramatically different as those in the lower economic ends of the ladder move upward. ‘Cause truthfully, no one can afford to live in this city for $9K a year.


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