The federal government developed the Official Poverty Measure (OPM) in the 1960s, and it doesn’t reflect the massive changes to the American family over the past 50 years. The Official measure is based solely on minimum income level needed to afford food and meet daily needs. Yet the measure doesn’t account for the rising costs of living expenses, the geographic variation in costs of living, or the full spectrum of income sources families use to meet daily needs.
The federal government recently introduced the Supplemental Poverty Measure. It is also based on income, but it incorporates the expenses of basic living necessities — food, shelter, clothing and utilities, the geographic variation in living costs, and it adjusts for the variety of factors that impact income to include government benefits and tax credits. The Poverty Tracker used the SPM methodology and found that more than 1.9 million people in New York City are living in poverty.
In 2012 nearly four of ten New Yorkers faced a persistent shortage of critical resources or underwent an episode of acute deprivation, such as staying in a shelter, having utilities shut off or being unable to pay for a doctor.
While people may suffer from health and related challenges regardless of their economic situation, indicators of well-being are often tied to poverty and material hardship. The numbers of New Yorkers reporting poor health or a severe work-limiting health condition increases under the poverty line.
53% of city residents struggled with income poverty, severe material hardship, or health-related challenges in 2012. Nearly one in five New Yorkers experienced two types of disadvantage simultaneously. 4% experienced all three disadvantages.
New Yorkers are suffering from chronic health issues at an alarming rate, with hypertension leading the way as the most prevalent health issue. As obesity rates climb in the city, prevalence of diabetes and hypertension are expected to increase as well, placing strains upon the city’s health care systems.
12% of New Yorkers reported that they stayed overnight in the hospital during the preceding 12 months. Among those hospitalized, the largest proportion had incomes just above the Supplemental Poverty threshold.
Many New Yorkers reported that they were not covered by any type of health insurance. Those lacking insurance come from all income levels. As this data was gathered before the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was implemented, the percentage of uninsured New Yorkers may decrease in the future.
New Yorkers reported a need for assistance in nine categories ranging from household bills to food, and from legal issues to housing. Yet not all New Yorkers who need additional services ask for assistance. About half of those who need help do not get the help they seek from family, government agencies or social service organizations.
When asked about the quality of city-provided services, many New Yorkers rated services in their neighborhood as “poor.” Sanitation, police, and crime-related issues drew the greatest number of low ratings.
While annual snapshots may tell us that the population experiencing poverty has barely changed, a closer look at the data reveals that from year to year, more people move in and out of poverty than remain persistently poor.
The number of people suffering from material hardship, defined as the chronic or acute inability to make ends meet, remained relatively unchanged from year to year. Still, some groups were more persistently afflicted than others. Further, many more New Yorkers experienced material hardship than poverty.
New Yorkers who owned more assets, such as a home, a car, or savings, are less likely to face either poverty or hardship than those with fewer resources.
New Yorkers with higher levels of debt are more vulnerable to material hardship. But surprisingly, those with more debt are less likely to enter poverty than those with little debt. Because individuals have to meet income thresholds to qualify for large loans in the first place, those with more debt are also less often in poverty.
Government and social service assistance help New Yorkers escape poverty and hardship. Both are also effective in keeping people out of disadvantage in the first place.