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A man stands in front of a shuttered business in Times Square, Jan. 15, 2020.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Poverty: Trends to Watch for the Future of NYC

Pre-pandemic, fewer New Yorkers were poor than a decade earlier — everywhere but The Bronx

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The start of 2022 marks a point of transition between Bill de Blasio’s eight years in charge of New York City and the arrival of Mayor Eric Adams. A mostly new City Council also just took office.

THE CITY is giving New York City a checkup by tracking its vital signs year by year on health, poverty, crime, housing, environment, homelessness, transportation and education, showing progress through de Blasio’s terms in office into the pandemic — and the stage set for Adams.

Before the coronavirus pandemic ravaged New York City and spurred double-digit unemployment rates, poverty was on the decline.

The 2019 rate of 17.9% was the city’s lowest since the count began — down from 20.7% in 2013, the year before de Blasio took office. 

Poverty dropped as the city economy boomed, reaching a record 4.6 million jobs in 2019, coinciding with a rise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. De Blasio released the 2019 figures in December 2021, weeks before leaving City Hall.

Every borough saw a decline in poverty between 2013 and 2019 — save one.

The Bronx was poorer in 2019 than it was before de Blasio took office, with 26% of residents living below the threshold versus 25% in 2013. During the same period, poverty declined by more than 4 points in Queens and Staten Island, and 3 points in Brooklyn and Manhattan. 

And while prosperity improved across racial and ethnic groups, progress was uneven, with poverty declining 5 points among Asians and 3 points among white and Hispanic households but just 0.8 points among Black New Yorkers.

New York City has tallied its own poverty measure since 2005, set higher than the federal poverty line to account for higher costs of living. In 2019, the threshold was $36,262 in annual income for a household of four, while the federal threshold was $25,926. 

On the federal scale, the poverty rate in NYC was 14.5% in 2019 — exceeding the national average by 4 points.

Two Cities

Geographic divides persisted despite de Blasio’s pledge to “end the tale of two cities.” 

The Bronx was home to the city’s eight poorest neighborhoods. Community District 5, including Morris Heights, Fordham, University Heights and Mount Hope, claimed the top spot with a 35.4% poverty rate. The neighborhoods are 70% Hispanic and 27% Black non-Hispanic, according to the Department of City Planning.

White-majority neighborhoods such as the Upper East Side, Battery Park City, Greenwich Village and Soho in Manhattan and Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook in Brooklyn are the richest areas in the city.

In the city’s richest borough, Manhattan, some neighborhoods still had poverty rates above the citywide average: East Harlem, Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Central Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville, West Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill.

The gap in poverty rates between ten richest neighborhoods and ten poorest neighborhoods was 20.8 points in 2019, compared to 21.5 points in 2013, measured as a 5-year average.

COVID shutdowns, illness and unemployment have since had devastating effects on households’ earnings that have yet to be fully measured. After peaking at 20.3% in June 2020, unemployment was at 9% as of November 2021 — more than twice the nationwide average.

Nationwide, the Census Bureau estimates that the poverty rose by 1 point to 11.4% in 2020 from 2019. Federal relief payments blunted some of the economic devastation of the pandemic. The 2021 numbers are likely to reflect the impact of the American Rescue Plan, projected to pull millions of people out of poverty. 

Read our coverage on labor and the NYC economy.