Data released today from the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey revealed that the poverty rate in New York City remained unchanged in 2014, stuck at 20.9 percent. This doesn’t come as a surprise – a Community Service Society report (“Stuck”) based on the findings of our annual Unheard Third survey showed that nearly three out of four New Yorkers in 2014 felt like they were either stuck or slipping further down the economic ladder. Today’s poverty numbers confirm that the city and its residents are having a hard time moving in the right direction.
Five years into the recovery from the Great Recession, it has become clear that it will take more than new jobs and lower unemployment to change the fact that one in five New Yorkers live below the poverty line. The city’s residents need bold public policies to reverse the trend.
Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo supported a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage. This will help the over 430,000 city residents living below the poverty line even though they are employed. The time for such an increase has clearly come, as cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have all agreed to raise their minimum age to that level over the next several years. We applaud the Governor for signaling his support and encourage the Governor and state legislature to move quickly on this issue.
During last year’s legislative session, while the Assembly passed a bill that would provide paid family leave to workers, the Senate failed to bring the issue to a vote. Today’s poverty numbers reveal why that is such a critical matter: the poverty rate for single mothers was 41.4 percent in 2014, almost double the overall poverty rate and up from 2013. A recent CSS report highlighted the stories of mothers who are struggling to make ends meet due to the lack of statewide paid family leave insurance. New mothers must be protected against falling into poverty because of lost earnings or being forced out of the labor force when they need temporary leave to care for a new baby.
We also continue to see significant racial disparities in the poverty rate, which is 10 points higher for blacks compared to whites, and more than double for Latinos. More must be done so that blacks and Latinos have an equal opportunity to secure the types of jobs that will keep them and their families out of poverty. The passage of the Fair Chance Act was a step in the right direction, ensuring that those with criminal records will not have their past used against them in the hiring process. But more needs to be done so that people of color – with and without criminal justice involvement – are given a fair chance.
Today’s poverty data also underscores the importance of education, and more than ever that means a college degree. The poverty rate for those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher was 7.6 percent, compared to 20.9 percent for those with just a high school diploma. The increased high school graduation rate in the city is a positive step, but we must ensure that graduating students are enrolling and succeeding in college as well.
And rising rents continue to put a strain on households who are seeing their incomes decline. The median household income fell slightly in real dollars in 2014, while the median rent rose by two percent after inflation. Lower rent guidelines for rent-stabilized tenants under the de Blasio administration could reduce the rate of increase in the coming years, but the city must also find a way to increase the amount of affordable housing it produces for low-wage workers living at or near the poverty line.