Every September, the Census Bureau releases the findings of its annual American Community Survey and we get a look at the latest poverty numbers for New York City. And yet again we see that more than one in five New Yorkers lives below the poverty line, a stubborn statistic that has remained unchanged even as the so-called recovery from the recession continues. The situation for Latinos is particularly worrisome. Nearly 30 percent of Latinos live in poverty, including nearly 4 out of 10 Latino children.
The number of jobs in the city might be up and the unemployment rate might be down, but it is clear that New York City will need bold public policies to bring down the poverty rate.
The Minimum Wage and Paid Family Leave
Earlier in the month, 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, lawmakers in Albany failed to pass a law that would provide paid family leave to workers. Today’s poverty numbers reveal why that is such a critical issue: 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 several mothers who are struggling to make ends meet due to the fact they were not able to return to their jobs after giving birth. New mothers must be protected against the possibility of losing their earnings or their jobs when they need to take time off to care for a new baby.
Closing the Gap
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. A key step in that regard is ensuring that all young people in the city receive a quality education and the support they need to succeed in school. Statistic after statistic shows the benefits of higher levels of educational attainment, and the latest poverty numbers in the city are no different. 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 attending and succeeding in college as well.
And no discussion about poverty in New York City would be complete without talking about housing. We continue to see rising rents put a strain on households who are seeing their incomes decline. 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.
Since 2010, a poverty rate above 20 percent has become the new norm in New York City. It makes one wonder how high the number will have to rise before bold action is demanded and taken. Maybe when one-third of the city’s residents are officially poor, our city and state officials will really take notice. For now, the same old game of half-measures and politics over policy all but guarantees that next September will reveal the same depressing numbers.