The latest Census Bureau figures show that poverty rates in New York City fell across every category in 2015, a welcome sign that the economic recovery, seven years in the making, is finally starting to lift all boats.
According to the American Community Survey, 1.68 million New Yorkers lived at or below the official federal poverty level ($24,036 for a family of four) in 2015. In numerical terms that’s 65,000 fewer people in poverty from the year before.
Poverty rates continue to be the highest for single mothers (down from 41.4 percent to 40.6 percent). And of the city’s ethnic groups Latinos had the highest poverty rate, 28.4 percent, a slight improvement from 2014 when it was 28.8 percent.
Still, with one in five New Yorkers living in poverty underscoring significant racial-economic disparities in the poverty rate, and the highest level of income inequality in the country, we know there’s more progress to be made. The question is what policy tools can we employ to accelerate these income gains, and spread out the economic benefits across more demographic groups in the city?
We already know part of the answer. When the state’s higher minimum wage begins being phased in starting next year we can expect wages to go up for workers who lost the most ground economically since the downturn. Another way we can help New Yorkers who have been locked out of employment opportunities and the city’s economic expansion, is by addressing the high cost of public transportation.
Simply put, transit fares are moving beyond the reach of many low-income New Yorkers. More than a quarter of working age, low-income New Yorkers often cannot afford bus and subway fares. A third of working age, low-income New Yorkers say they did not take a job or look for job further from where they live because of the cost of a MetroCard. African-Americans and Latinos, who have the highest jobless rates, are affected the most by unaffordable transit fares.
Here’s what we know: transit affordability is critical to upward mobility. And by making our transit system more affordable and accessible, we can narrow the economic inequality gap and prevent more low-income New Yorkers from falling further behind those with higher incomes.