As the 2016 legislative session begins, findings from the Community Service Society’s (CSS) annual survey of New York City residents show that a vast majority of low-income New Yorkers feel they are not making progress moving up the economic ladder. When asked about strategies to help struggling New Yorkers get ahead, New Yorkers of all incomes voiced strong support for an upward mobility agenda that includes raising the minimum wage, making college more affordable, passing statewide paid family leave, making mass transit more affordable, and reining in the practice of unpredictable scheduling.
These are among the findings of the latest Unheard Third poll, CSS’s annual survey of low-income New Yorkers, and the only public opinion poll in the nation that regularly tracks the concerns and hardships of New York City’s low-income residents.
Despite job growth and low unemployment, New Yorkers overwhelmingly feel stuck, or worse, that they are slipping further down the economic ladder. Broad agreement exists across income levels and political affiliation on a 2016 state legislative agenda that would expand economic mobility and create ladders of opportunity for those struggling to get ahead. By a wide margin, New Yorkers said raising the minimum wage and making college more affordable would have the greatest impact on improving economic conditions for low-income residents. Nearly half of low-income New Yorkers surveyed selected raising the minimum wage and 36 percent selected making college more affordable as one of their top two choices for what would help low-income New Yorkers get ahead. The order was reversed when the question was asked of moderate- and higher-income New Yorkers – 40 percent said making college more affordable and 36 percent named raising the minimum wage.
“Public opinion strongly favors taking action on common-sense measures that would jumpstart the engines of mobility so that those struggling at the bottom can get ahead, support their families and access educational opportunities to create a better future,” said David R. Jones, CSS President and CEO. “We still have too many families in this city living in poverty, or teetering on the brink of it. Seven years after the Great Recession many New Yorkers are still waiting for our government leaders to address problems that are contributing to the economic divide and leaving large segments of our population in dire straits.”
Although raising the minimum wage and making college more affordable were the top choices from a list of 10 ideas, New Yorkers also expressed strong support for paid family leave which would protect workers against paycheck loss at critical times such as the birth of a child and caring for a seriously ill family member. Other policy ideas that drew widespread support included requiring employers to provide greater notice of work schedules, and establishing reduced bus and subway fares for low-income residents.
Among some of the key findings from the poll:
- Among the poor, 8 out of 10 feel they are not getting ahead, including a quarter who see themselves losing ground.
- Low-income Latinos seem to be fairing the worst – they are more likely to report multiple hardships and have next to no savings to cushion them against job loss.
- Nearly one-third of low-income Latinos report trouble affording transit fares (compared to 19 percent for blacks and 11 percent for whites)
- Unpredictable work schedules are creating hardships for low wage workers (particularly Latinos); nearly 3 out of 10 low income workers report receiving three days or less notice
A lack of upward mobility for low-income residents of the city means that many are stuck experiencing multiple, significant hardships. Nearly four out of ten low-income New Yorkers reported experiencing three or more hardships, such as skipping meals and falling behind in the rent, and one-quarter of low-income residents reported experiencing five or more. These hardships are in many cases being experienced by working New Yorkers.
Governor Cuomo has voiced his support for a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage, and he has used his executive authority to raise the minimum wage for certain groups of workers. Paid family leave – which was passed last year by the Assembly, but not the Senate – continues to be debated. The Unheard Third shows that New Yorkers are broadly and enthusiastically supportive of these and other proposals that will help low-income residents get ahead.
The Unheard Third survey is done in collaboration with Lake Research Partners. It was conducted from July 19 to August 17, 2015, and is based on responses from a total of 1,705 New York City residents representing low, moderate and high income households. In reporting the findings for the total population, income groups are weighted to their correct proportion of the population. The margin of error for the low-income component is 3.0 percent. The margin of error for the higher income component is 3.8 percent.