Economic inequality has gotten much worse over the last several decades, and the major reason is government policies. The Latino community has paid a heavy price for economic inequality. The unemployment rate in the city for Latinos is 12.6 percent compared to 6.7 percent for whites. The poverty rate is 29.8 percent, more than twice that of whites (12.8%). Nearly one-third of full time employed Latinos live in low-income households.
There is clearly a need for a minimum wage for New York City because of the vast difference in the cost of living between the city and upstate. The minimum wage in New York State is $8.00 an hour, about $16,000 a year for a full time worker. The federal poverty level for family of four is $23,850. Over 1.7 million city residents live below the federal poverty level. Mayor de Blasio was rebuffed in Albany when he attempted to raise the city’s minimum wage.
Workers’ benefits are crucial to closing the gap in economic inequality. A living wage – at least for those workers employed in city contracted jobs – should be instituted by the city. A family leave bill passed the Assembly in Albany, but it is stuck in the State Senate. The importance of unionization for low-wage workers cannot be overstated. Without collective strength, low-wage workers are easily susceptible to exploitation.
The city needs to expand its Career and Technical Education courses and schools. Last year 800 high school students wanted to take CTE courses, but there was no room for them. And CTE should be linked to apprenticeship and jobs in expanding local industries.
The city should institute better policies for the GED. Almost one million workers are without a high school diploma or a GED, inhibiting their opportunities for advancement in the labor market. Yet few take the exam and even fewer pass it. More than one in three Latino adults lacks a high school diploma or GED.
There is a strong tendency in the city’s real estate market to segregate people by income. This creates neighborhood inequality, the unequal distribution of resources that affect the quality of life and the opportunities for advancement – primarily adequate public schools and decent affordable housing.
Low-income New Yorkers — those under twice the federal poverty level — bear the most severe rent burdens, draining resources they need for other purposes. Over 90 percent of low-income renters pay at least half of income for rent. But they will receive only 20 percent of the affordable units under the Mayor’s Housing New York Plan.
NYCHA – the New York City Housing Authority - runs the largest public housing program in the nation, a critical local affordable housing resource. NYCHA has been in serious financial and physical decline for years. Residents pay affordable rents, but they live in abysmal conditions. We can’t rely on Washington for help. We need long-term capital investment from the city and state in infrastructural improvements to aging NYCHA buildings.
Most low-income New Yorkers depend on the private rental market. Many face increasingly unaffordable rents, even in rent-regulated apartments. On average, they pay at least half their income for rent. The Rent Guidelines Board continually provides owners with rent increases that exceeded actual increases in operating costs. It is time for the Board to freeze rents for stabilized apartments.
Our tax system exacerbates income inequality by providing benefits for the wealthy while disregarding the plight of low and moderate income families. The state’s STAR property tax relief program provides billions of dollars of benefits for homeowners — regardless of income — while it disregards renters who pay property taxes through their rents.
In each of these cases, public officials can help to close the huge gap in economic inequality. They should focus on aiding low-income New Yorkers rather than securing another break for the wealthy.