Press Release

Statement on National Poverty Statistics

David R. Jones

Contact: Jeffrey N. Maclin   
(212) 614-5538 (office)
(718) 309-2346 (cell)

Today the Census Bureau released national poverty estimates for 2011, showing that after rising for three consecutive years, the percent and number of people living in poverty in the U.S. remained high, statistically unchanged from 2010. Last year 15 percent of the country’s population, or 46.2 million people, lived below the poverty level of $22,811 for a family of four.  However, while poverty figures remained unchanged, income inequality has increased. The top 20 percent of the population saw a rise in their household income, with the biggest increase going to the top 5 percent, while all other households experienced income declines. This was partly attributed to an increase in the number of workers with low-wage jobs during the recovery period.

What does it mean for New York City? Local poverty data will not be released until next week, but we see troubling signs of growing income inequality in our city and barriers to upward mobility. A record number of 43,000 homeless fill the city’s shelter system. Unemployment remains high, with new jobs being created in low-wage sectors, rather than mid-skill, union, and public sector jobs. And the recent CSS report on enrollment trends at CUNY found shrinking access to affordable higher education for underrepresented groups, particularly blacks and Latinos.

The latest CSS report on unemployment shows that while private sector jobs are being created, many of these jobs are in sectors that offer low wages, with insufficient pay to lift a family out of poverty, and lacking basic benefits like paid sick days.  Nearly 200,000 more New Yorkers are unemployed now than when the recession began; and among the total 380,000 jobless, half count among the long-term unemployed who have been out of work for six months or longer. Older workers, women, and blacks are struggling the most, raising real concerns that many risk becoming permanently left out of the labor force.

One relatively bright spot in the data released today showed a drop in the percentage of people without health insurance, both nationally and in New York State, where it declined from 15.1 percent to 12.2 percent. This drop can be attributed to the expansion of coverage to young people under the new federal health law, and the strength of New York’s health care safety net programs, which are filling the gap until full implementation of the law in 2014.

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