Half of New Yorkers Faced Poverty, Material Hardship in 2015-2018

Half of New Yorkers Faced Poverty, Material Hardship in 2015-2018

Although the poverty rate in New York City has fallen since 2012, it remains significantly higher than the national rate, and people of color and women in the city are disproportionately more likely to be living in poverty, a report from Robin Hood finds.

Launched by Robin Hood in 2012 in partnership with Columbia University, the Poverty Tracker surveys the same twenty-three hundred New York City residents every three months on core measures of disadvantage — income poverty, material hardships, and/or health problems. According to the project's second annual report, The State of Poverty and Disadvantage in New York City (60 pages, PDF), 20 percent of adults and 20 percent of households with children were living in poverty in 2018, earning less than $17,000 and $30,000, respectively — compared with the national poverty rate of 12 percent —  while another 30 percent were living "near poverty," earning between 101 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Poverty rates were higher for Latinx (27 percent), Asian (24 percent), black (23 percent), and other/multiracial (22 percent) New Yorkers than for whites (13 percent) and also higher for women (24 percent) than for men (17 percent).

Half the survey respondents reported living below the poverty line at some point between 2015 and 2018, with 35 percent of those who managed to escape it falling back into poverty within a year. Among those who were able to stay out of poverty for two years, however, only 20 percent fell back into it.

The survey also found that even as the share of New York City adults who experienced material hardship — not being able to afford food, housing, utilities, or health care and/or running out of money between paychecks — fell from 36 percent to 30 percent between 2015 and 2018, 34 percent of households with children responding to the survey in 2018 said they experienced it. And 53 percent of survey respondents reported experiencing material hardship in at least one of the four years (2015-18), with higher rates for Latinx (43 percent), other/multiracial (40 percent), African Americans (39 percent), and for women (36 percent) than for men (26 percent).

In contrast to the slightly lower poverty and material hardship rates, the percentages of New York City adults reporting health problems and mental distress increased slightly, to 23 percent and 9 percent, respectively, in 2018, with the highest rates among Latinx and black New Yorkers.

According to the report, every year between 2012 and 2018, roughly 14 percent of adults fell into poverty and 16 percent entered a period of material hardship. Factors associated with falling below the poverty line include common life events such as having a child (22 percent), losing a job (18 percent), or ending a relationship (18 percent), with higher percentages for those with limited assets and lower educational attainment. Factors likely to lead to material hardship include an unexpected expense (17 percent), ending a relationship (17 percent), or losing an expensive belonging (14 percent), a member of the household moving out (12 percent), losing a job (11 percent), and an accident or illness (10 percent).

"Everyday events should not come with such severe risks," the report's authors conclude, "but these risks will only be mitigated when we reduce inequality in our city and when sustainable economic mobility is the rule rather than the exception."

(Photo credit: Katie Haugland Bowen)

"The State of Poverty and Disadvantage in New York City." Robin Hood Foundation Report 02/13/2020.