Press Release

CSS Unheard Third Survey Finds Growing Optimism Though Many Low-income New Yorkers Still Struggle with Hardships

New York City’s Working Poor are Starting to Feel Upward Mobility is Possible

New York, NY – Eight years after the end of the Great Recession, more low-income New York City residents are finally feeling hopeful about their prospects for economic mobility, according to a new report released today by the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), Upward Mobility: In sight for more New Yorkers, still out of reach for most. Based on data from the 2017 Unheard Third, CSS’s annual survey of New York City residents conducted in collaboration with national polling firm Lake Research Partners, the report found that for the first time since New Yorkers were asked this question four years ago, there was a notable rise in the share of low-income residents who felt like they were climbing up the economic ladder. Although more low-income New Yorkers now see themselves as upwardly mobile, many continue to struggle with financial insecurity, unaffordable rents and other hardships.

“For sure, a booming local economy, with growing jobs and record low unemployment, has been important, but the wave of recent progressive measures taken by the city and state have made a big difference in making sure that New Yorkers on the lowest rungs of the ladder are benefitting,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York.  “We’ve gone from a $7.25 minimum wage in 2013 to one headed towards $15 an hour by the end of 2019, and we’ve seen paid sick days, universal preK, paid family leave statewide, rent freezes on regulated apartments and now Fair Fares, which will ease the daily costs of surviving in the city and help people get ahead.”

The survey found that in 2017, 26 percent of low-income New Yorkers saw themselves as climbing up the economic ladder, a figure that had hovered between 16 to 18 percent in the preceding three years. The rise in optimism was highest among the working poor who are paid on an hourly basis and likely benefited from steady increases in the minimum wage in recent years.  Between 2014 and 2017, the proportion of poor hourly workers who saw themselves moving up the economic ladder doubled from 15 to 30 percent.

Among the report’s other key findings are that many low-income working New Yorkers continue to grapple with financial instability in spite of a strong economy—37 percent said they worried all or most of the time about having enough income to meet their household’s expenses and bills and nearly a quarter reported having no savings to fall back on in an emergency. The report also found that the lack of affordable housing is a main driver for other types of economic hardships; compared to other low-income working households, those who struggle to pay their rent or utility bills on time are much more likely to cut back on other essentials such as food, transportation and healthcare. “While we’re glad to finally see signs of rising optimism, we need to do more to address the many barriers to economic advancement that remain,” said Irene Lew, a CSS policy analyst and co-author of the report along with CSS Vice President, Nancy Rankin. 

The authors make several recommendations for alleviating hardships among New York City’s low-income workers. To reduce housing-related hardships, they propose expanding rent assistance programs as well as strengthening New York State’s rent stabilization laws that are up for renewal in the coming year. The report also supports moving toward one minimum wage for all workers in New York regardless of whether they receive tips as part of their pay, as well as improving outreach and enforcement of new labor laws. 

Upward Mobility draws on findings from CSS’s annual Unheard Third survey. The survey, which is done in collaboration with Lake Research Partners, was conducted from July 12 to August 15, 2017 and sampled a total of 1,761 New York City residents age 18 or older via cell phone and landline. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points for the low-income component and +/- 4.0 percentage points for the moderate and higher income sample.

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