For anyone living in New York City, or even vaguely familiar with the city and its mayor, this is not surprising news. But it’s still unwelcome:
The rise in New York City’s poverty rate as a result of the recession has apparently eased, but not before pushing nearly half of the city’s population into the ranks of the poor or near-poor in 2011, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg administration.
That year, according to the city’s measure, about 46 percent of New Yorkers were making less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold, a benchmark used to describe people who are not officially poor but who still struggle to get by. That represents a rise of more than three percentage points since 2009, when the nation’s recession officially ended.
After a huge economic catastrophe, brought on thanks to the shady dealings of a certain financial hub in southern Manhattan, this is to be expected. And it’s also worth noting that the City’s definition of poverty is more inclusive than the federal government’s: “The city says a two-adult, two-child family is poor if it earns less than $30,949 a year. The federal government sets the level at $22,811.”
If you’re wondering which measure is closer to reality, remember that at a lot of federal spending on the poor is tied to these poverty level estimations. The more people that are officially poor, the more programs like Medicaid, for example, are expected to do (read: spend) in response. Since at least the 90s, experts have argued that the way Washington measures poverty — first established in the 60s — was outdated. But, a generation later, the method is unchanged. You can probably guess why.
Back to New York: as The Nation explores at length in its latest issue, NYC is what you could call a Gilded City. Being home to Goldman Sachs as well as Queensbridge, the City holds a particularly stark example of the yawning chasm that now separates the hyper-rich from the rest. It’s a mirror of the country at large, and, barring an unlikely series of changes, it’s something of a look into the future, too. On that score, the report’s lead researcher doesn’t like what he sees:
“In the very short term, I’m sort of an optimist,” Dr. Levitan said. “Looking further, I see storm clouds with tremendous pressure for austerity. My fear is that we are moving to another dynamic where employment and earnings are rising and the safety net is contracting.”
It’s a totally valid worry; and with Governor Andrew Cuomo seemingly intent on presenting himself as the next best thing to a chryogenically frozen 1992-era Bill Clinton, I see little reason to believe austerity isn’t coming — and relatively soon. Maybe I’m wrong; I have a habit of assuming the worst when it comes to Mario’s son. But if a little good economic news sends Cuomo and others rushing to cut like it’s 1996, I won’t be surprised.