Breaking News! New York City’s Poor Stay Poor, Rich Get Rich, Income Gap Is Biggest In the Country

09/19/2013 3:17 PM |

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  • c/o npr.org

I will take just about any excuse to incorporate Leonard Cohen song lyrics into a headline, but using these particular song lyrics gives me no joy because they’re pretty depressing, if not surprising. The New York Times reports today that recently released census data reveals “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.” So, just in case you thought that maybe your experience of struggling to pay rent despite having a job, and also having lots of friends who are in similar situations was just anecdotal and perhaps didn’t apply to New York City at large, well, guess what? You were wrong. New Yorkers (some of them anyway) really are still struggling to get by, despite the fact that the recession is technically over. But what do you win for being right? Uh, nothing really. Other than the fun, fun prize of living in a city with the biggest income gap in the country, which, that’s not much of a prize at all, is it? No. It’s not. It’s really, really not.

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Anyway. The census data reported that the city’s “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.” But was there any news to mitigate the fact that more than one in five New Yorkers are living below the poverty line? Sort of. Deputy mayor for health and human services, Linda I. Gibbs tells the Times that “Since 2000…the city has gone to 13th highest from 6th highest among poverty rates for the 20 biggest cities.” So, that’s better than going in the opposite direction, we guess. But it still doesn’t address the gross inequality between the bottom fifth of earners in this city, who take home a median income of $8,933, and the top fifth, who take home an income of $222,871, with the top 5 percent making $436,931, which, the Times helpfully points out is “about 49 times as much as those with the lowest income.”

Now obviously this news is unsurprising, but it is something to keep in mind as we prepare to elect a new mayor, and say goodbye to Bloomberg, who so recently said that nothing would make him happier than “if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?” Hopefully, the next mayor (De Blasio, almost definitely) will focus not so much on Russian billionaires, or even New York City billionaires, but on the millions of people struggling to get by, people without health insurance or enough money to put food on the table for their children. Because “Everybody Knows” is a great song, but it kind of sucks to be living it.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen