Poverty Rate Up in New York City and Income Gap Widens: Census Data Show!

Dear Commons Community,

The latest U.S. Census Bureau data show that poverty is up in New York City and the income gap between rich and poor has widened considerably.  The poverty rate rose to 21.2 percent in 2012, from 20.9 percent the year before, meaning that 1.7 million New Yorkers fell below the official federal poverty threshold. That increase was not statistically significant, but the rise from the 2010 rate of 20.1 percent was.  In the city, median household income inched up to $50,895, from $50,657, after declining for three years from its recent high of $54,695 in 2008. And 6 of the nation’s 10 largest cities had higher poverty rates, although 4 recorded declines compared with 2011. On average, New York had a lower poverty rate, fewer people without health insurance and a higher median household income than other major metropolitan areas.  However, a yawning income gap seemed to show a city that has become stratified with wealth concentrated in a small percentage of the population.   Citywide, the mean income of the lowest fifth was $8,993, while the highest fifth made $222,871 and the top 5 percent made $436,931 — about 49 times as much as those with the lowest income.

Relating these data to the messages of NYC’s mayoral candidates, the New York Times commented:

“Bill de Blasio’s path to the Democratic nomination for mayor was built in large part around his theme that New York has become a tale of two cities. New data released  by the Census Bureau lend support to that argument, showing that even as the recession has ended, the city’s poverty rate continues to inch up and the gap between the rich and poor remains stubbornly large…

Mr. de Blasio, who has attracted populist support with his message of economic inequality, said the latest census data reinforced the need for the next mayor to alter course. “I wish it didn’t,” he said.

His Republican opponent, Joseph J. Lhota, has accused Mr. de Blasio of promoting class warfare, but Mr. Lhota acknowledged on Wednesday that poverty remained a critical problem.

“There is no question that people are suffering in this economy,” Mr. Lhota said. “The key to lifting people out of poverty is through the creation of career jobs and education.” He said he would focus on diversifying the economy and creating additional affordable housing “to ensure more people make it into the middle class.”


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