While Some Improvement Crept in during 2012, NYC’s Family Incomes and Poverty Status are Still Much Worse than before the Recession

September 20, 2014. The latest data from the Census Bureau for 2012 show that while NYC median family incomes and poverty stabilized last year, we are still a very long way from undoing the deterioration caused by the 2008-09 recession. Most NYC families have been battered by the recession and the historically weak recovery. Adjusted for inflation, median family incomes dipped slightly in 2012 (but not significantly) and are $3,800 or 6.5% below the 2008 level. Nationally, inflation-adjusted median family incomes dropped by $5,000 or 7.5% from 2008 to 2012.

This income erosion among NYC residents results partly from a 2.8% drop in real median wage earnings, which fell by $1,000 from $35,000 in 2008 to $34,000 in 2012. This drop, in turn, stems from a disproportionate increase in part-time employment. Median wage earnings for both men and women working full-time, year-round, have risen by about 3% in inflation-adjusted terms over the past four years. On the other hand, the percent of the working age population that is employed was 56.8% in 2012, considerably below the 58.7% from 2008.

NYC’s poverty rate climbed from 18.2% in 2008 to 21.2% in 2012, an increase of 3.0 percentage points, more than for the nation as a whole. The U.S. poverty rate went from 13.2% to 15.9% over this period. Although there was a slight uptick in NYC’s poverty rate in 2012 compared to 2011, it was not a statistically significant change.

The poverty rate among New York City’s children has risen faster than the overall increase. In 2008, 26.5% of the city’s children were growing up in poverty households. By 2012, that number had risen to 31.4%.

The number of city residents living in “deep poverty,” considered to be half the official poverty threshold, increased from 2008 to 2012 even faster than the city’s overall poverty increase.

Since the start of the recession, 243,000 more city residents have fallen into poverty, bringing the total to 1.7 million out of a population of 8.2 million. For 2012, the federal poverty threshold for a 3-person family was $18,284.

In 2012, 410,000 workers, or one out of every 10, were paid wages that kept them in poverty.  These 410,000 constitute the “working poor”, i.e., those who work either part-time or full-time but whose earnings are too low to lift their family incomes above the poverty line.

Reflecting the widespread hardships induced by the recession and slow recovery, the share of the city’s population receiving food stamps jumped from 14.9% in 2008 to 21% in 2012.

The city desperately needs the sort of recovery that shares the fruits of economic growth with all workers, rather than continuing to be heavily concentrated in the hands of a small elite. According to the latest Census Bureau data for 2012, there has been no significant lessening of New York City’s extreme inequality since 2007.

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Children in upstate cities are the losers as poverty remains high in New York

September 19, 2013. Poverty remained high at 16 percent and incomes stagnant in New York last year, showing the continuing pain of the recession and underscoring the need for New York to do more to help struggling people and give them the tools to lift themselves out of poverty. Over 3 million people in New York lived under the federal poverty level in 2012 when no statistically significant change in the overall poverty rate occurred from 2011, according to new Census Bureau data released today. This represents more than one in six people in poverty across the state.

Poverty levels also remained unchanged upstate and continued to be higher than in New York City and the state overall. This is particularly true in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse where overall poverty rates are 31 percent or higher—twice the figure for New York State.

Specifically disconcerting are the poverty rates for children in 2012 that remained higher than the poverty rate for all New Yorkers. The level of poverty experienced by related children under 18 years of age—22.6 percent—is close to 50 percent higher than the rate of poverty across the state. This represents just under one million children, or almost one in four kids, living in poverty in 2012. Poverty rates for children in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse are most stark at close to or more than 50 percent since 2010—twice the poverty rate for all children in New York State over this period.

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Family Poverty in New York State

September 19, 2013. The statewide family poverty rate (i.e., the percentage of families with incomes below the poverty level) in New York State was virtually the same in 2012 (12.2%) as in 2011 (12.3%). These poverty rates were greater, to a statistically significant degree, than New York State’s family poverty rate of 10.3% in 2007, the year before the onset of the Great Recession in December 2007 nationally and in New York State in the Spring of 2008.

The statewide family poverty rate of 12.2%, however, masks tremendous differences geographically and between homeowners and renters. Only five counties,[1] for example, had family poverty rates above 12.9% in 2012 but, in several of those counties, the rates were significantly higher.  These five counties and their family poverty rates are:

  • Bronx, 28.8%
  • Kings (Brooklyn), 20.8%
  • Chautauqua, 15.8%
  • Sullivan, 15.6%
  • New York (Manhattan), 15.1%

At the other end of the spectrum, are the following seven counties:

  • Rensselaer, 6.4%
  • Dutchess, 5.8%
  • Suffolk, 5.0%
  • Tompkins, 4.8%
  • Nassau, 4.6%
  • Putnam, 3.9%
  • Saratoga, 3.3%

There is also a significant difference between the family poverty rates in large cities and their suburbs. This distinction is even greater than that shown by the following comparison of family poverty rates in counties and cities, since the county rates are greatly influenced by their city rates.

  • Albany County 8.2%, City of Albany 15.2%
  • Erie County 10.2%, City of Buffalo 25.7%
  • Monroe County 11.0%, City of Rochester 29.4%
  • Onondaga County 10.0%, City of Syracuse 29.8%
  • Schenectady County 8.6%, City of Schenectady 19.5%
  • Westchester County 7.5%, City of Mount Vernon 14.4%, City of New Rochelle 8.9%, and City of Yonkers 14.0%

These disparities are also apparent when we compare the family poverty rates for homeowners and renters by county. For the counties with large urban centers, these disparities are a rough proxy for the difference between the family poverty rates in the central cities and their suburbs. These disparities are daunting. In all the upstate counties with relatively large central cities, except Albany County, the family poverty rate for renters was over 30% while the poverty rate for home-owning families was under 5% in every one of these counties, and below 3.5% in Erie, Monroe, Onondaga, Albany and Schenectady. The specific disparities are as follows.

Family Poverty Rates for Upstate Counties with Large Urban Centers, by Housing Tenure

Erie County (including the City of Buffalo)

Homeowners 3.4%, Renters 31.3%

Monroe County (including the City of Rochester)

Homeowners 2.6%, Renters 34.1%

Onondaga County (including the City of Syracuse)

Homeowners 2.7%, Renters 33.6%

Albany County (including the City of Albany)

Homeowners 3.4%, Renters 20.2%

Schenectady County (including the City of Schenectady)

Homeowners 2.3%, Renters 32.9%

Broome County (including the City of Binghamton)

Homeowners 4.3%, Renters 37.1%

Oneida County (including the City of Utica)

Homeowners 4.4%, Renters 38.2%

Niagara County (including the City of Niagara Falls)

Homeowners 3.8%, Renters 38.5%


[1] The 1-Year estimates release today only cover jurisdictions with populations above 65,000. Meeting this population threshold were 39 of New York’s 62 counties, and 10 “places” including Cheektowaga CDP (which stands for Census Defined Place) and the cities of Albany, Buffalo, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, New York City, Rochester, Schenectady, Syracuse and Yonkers.

New York is Second to Massachusetts in Reducing its Uninsurance Rate Over the Past Decade

September 19, 2013. The percentage of New Yorkers without health insurance dropped for the second year in a row from 12.2 percent in 2011 to 11.3 percent in 2012 (+/- .5 percent) according to estimates released by the Census Bureau two days ago. Overall, the number of people without health care coverage across the state dropped to approximately 2.2 million people in 2012.

Moreover, New York was one of only four states that had a statistically significant reduction in the share of people not covered by private or public health insurance over the past decade.[1] Most observers would not be surprised that Massachusetts is the frontrunner among these states with a 4.4 percent decrease from 1999-2001 to 2010-2012 because of the comprehensive health care reform enacted there under Governor Mitt Romney in 2006. But many observers would be surprised that New York was second with an almost 3 percent decline over the same period—little more than a decade.

New York is followed by Hawaii, and then Vermont, where the 1.4 percent decrease in rate of uninsurance is less than half that experienced in New York. Conversely, from 1999-2001 to 2010-2012, twenty-eight states experienced statistically significant increases in the share of people not covered by private or public health insurance.

A large part of this change is due to the success of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), launched in 1998, along with Medicaid, which resulted in a dramatic fall in the number of children without health insurance in New York State over the last decade. Altogether these programs combined to cover over 419,000 more children in the state since 1999-2000, or 283,000 more children since before the Great Recession, an increase of over 19 percent from 2006-2007. The rate of uninsurance for this group has fallen to 6.1 percent in 2011-2012, reflecting statistically significant decreases of 3.1 percent since 1999-2000, and 2 percent since 2006-2007.

The trend among children contrasts sharply with that of adults. That’s largely because private insurance coverage—in particular, job-based coverage— declined during this period; also it is much more difficult for adults to qualify for public health insurance than it is for children. Coverage through employer-sponsored health insurance decreased by 4.4 percent for people under 65 in New York State since 2006-2007. However, a statistically significant increase in the share of New York’s population covered by Medicare from 14.4 percent in 2006-2007 to 15.8 percent in 2011-2012 has also contributed to overall growth of health care coverage in New York. Altogether, 36.3 percent of New Yorkers in 2011-2012 had coverage through government health insurance programs and 63.4 percent were covered by private health insurance.

Starting on October 1, New Yorkers who can’t get affordable health insurance through their jobs but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid can sign up for coverage for 2014 through the state’s new health insurance marketplace, NY State of Health. Many people will be eligible for new federal subsidies to help them pay their premiums and reduce their out-of-pocket health costs. Governor Cuomo’s office estimates that more than one million New Yorkers will gain coverage through the NY State of Health marketplace.

PDF of Chart: Percent of People Not Covered By Health Insurance

PDF of Figure: Statistically Significant Percentage in Health Insurance.

PDF of Table: Change in Percentage of People Without Health Insurance Coverage by State.


[1] Three-year averages that  pool three years of sample data for an overall larger sample size and that allow valid comparison across all states including those with smaller populations were used in this analysis. One-year results show a steeper decline in New York but use of such estimates is not as rigorous as use of three-year averages.

Tax Reformers Urge Governor and Legislature to Take the Politics out of the Tax Debate—And Give the Public a Voice!

September 4, 2013. Statewide tax reform groups and activists from across New York State gathered at the State Capitol today to urge the Governor and the State Senate to “shed a little sunshine” on the tax reform debates that have left many New Yorkers “out in the cold.”

The NYS Senate (through its Finance Committee, and its Investigations and Government Operations Committees) is holding “Invitation Only” hearings across the state to “Review Existing Tax Policy and Discuss Reform Initiatives” and the Governor’s Tax Reform and Fairness Commission continues to meet in private to determine how to make our tax system “fair and equitable” for all New Yorkers. The groups suggested that it is time to open up these tax debates and give the public a chance to weigh in.

The groups complained that the tax policy enacted during the 2013 legislative session in Albany was misguided or stinks of political pandering. The groups are referring to the $350 Family Rebate checks (going out just before election day to families with incomes up to $300,000 per year—but not to families with incomes below $40,000 per year), the Minimum Wage Tax Credit (that incentivizes firing older workers to hire younger ones), huge tax breaks for big developers in NYC to build luxury units and of course Start-Up NY (which we were told would not cost anything but now realize will cost at least $323 million and growing).

The groups instead suggested that the state should closely examine the $7 billion dollars a year it spends on tax credits and economic development grants to big, politically connected businesses and start focusing on how to help struggling families and small businesses.

“We need to take this debate to the public as they have the most to lose when Albany starts rejiggering the tax code to help its deep pocketed friends and contributors. We need to make sure the public is able to weigh in on how to reform our tax code so our elected officials can no longer practice their “sleight of hand” tax reforms that benefit the wealthy at the expense of struggling working class families and small businesses,” said Ron Deutsch, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness.

“We can’t talk about fixing New York’s tax system without talking about the $7 billion in subsidies given each year to businesses for economic development. There is hardly any coordination or monitoring of this spending. What New Yorkers need is a transparent, accountable and performance-based economic development system that creates jobs for New Yorkers.” Josh Kellermann, Senior Policy Analyst at ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York.

“New York has one of the least transparent state governments in the nation. New York leads the nation in economic inequality. These facts are not unrelated,” said Colin Donnaruma of Occupy Albany. “Time and time again we see that when fiscal policy is made behind closed doors, it is made to benefit those who have access to closed door decision making processes; the elite and well-connected. Opaqueness and inequality reinforce and reproduce one another. It is critical that we address both.”

John Whiteley of the NYS Property Tax Reform Coalition said, “The State’s tax and fiscal policies over recent decades have helped lead to an unprecedented increase in the property tax burden, impacting primarily the middle class. Nowhere is statewide tax reform more important than in the antiquated system we use to fund our schools, with its continued over-dependence on the oppressive property tax. While the property tax “cap” does not cap anyone’s school tax bill, what it HAS done is to highlight the need for a fundamental overhaul of the funding system. To save our schools and taxpayers’ homes alike, there must be a significant increase in the role played by more equitable, broad-based state taxes. While this cannot be accomplished overnight, the discussion should be going on now as part of the current debate over tax reform, and should include everyone affected—schools, parents and taxpayers.”

Gioia Shebar, coordinator of TaxNightmare.org stated, “The imbalance between the rich and the poor is the oldest and the most fatal ailment in any republic. Plutarch said that almost two millennia ago…and word STILL hasn’t reached them up here in state government.”

“Good public policy, healthy democracy and a strong economy really do go together,” said Michael Kink of the Strong Economy For All Coalition. “Fair-share tax policies, bang-for-the-buck job creation and better pay for all low-wage workers are really popular with New Yorkers—there’s no reason to duck public input, unless you’re trying to pull a fast one.”

Frank Mauro of the Fiscal Policy Institute expressed his appreciation to the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations for having a chance to share his ideas on tax policy with them and told the committees that it is also important for them “to hear from both the public and from academic experts in the relevant fields of study.” According to Mauro, who is retiring after 20 years with the Fiscal Policy Institute, “In some cooperative way, the Senate, the Assembly and the Governor should review the overall revenue adequacy and stability of New York State’s state-local tax system along with a review of the overall distributional impact of that system on people at different income levels.”  Before joining FPI, Mauro was Deputy Director of SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute and earlier in his career served as Secretary of the State Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee.

In his testimony, Mauro told the committees that “It is also important to remember two additional points. First, both sides of government budgets—the revenue side and the expenditure side—have an impact on the economy. We sometimes forget that government provides the basics—education, infrastructure, clean water, etc.—that allow the free market economy to flourish. Second, and very related to the first, the state-local tax system is one system, not two separate and independent systems. In the American system of government, it is the states that determine the division of labor between themselves and their local governments.”

Press Release

FPI Testimony at Senate Hearing Urges Balanced Approach to Tax Reform

September 4, 2013. In testimony before the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, Frank Mauro, FPI’s Executive Director, expressed support for a thorough review of the tax system from a number of perspectives.  He indicated that back in December 2011, Governor Cuomo and the legislative leaders joined in calling for a thorough review of the fairness of the New York tax system and agreed that fairness is one important basis for evaluating the workings of any tax system. But, he stressed that two other criteria—adequacy and stability—are also important. According to Mauro’s testimony, “It is difficult to say that one of these three criteria is more important than the other two. Governors and legislators have to try to achieve all three objectives simultaneously. The result is that making state tax policy is a very difficult balancing act.”

He also acknowledged that policymakers “yearn for a tax system that will encourage the creation and retention of jobs and broadly shared prosperity,” but cautioned that this is “easier said than done.” He pointed to the legacy costs of failed programs like the Job Incentive Board program and the Empire Zones program as evidence of the fact that “Just because a policymaker’s heart is in the right place doesn’t mean that the policies that he or she advances will work as intended.” He expressed hope that New York officials “have learned from these experiences and will be careful before launching new programs that can incur significant obligations with little to show for it.”

Mauro urged the Senate committees to remember two additional points. First, both sides of government budgets—the revenue side and the expenditure side—have an impact on the economy.  We sometimes forget that government provides the basics—education, infrastructure, an effectively functioning legal system, clean water, fire protection, etc.—that allow the free market economy to flourish.  Second, and very related to the first, the state-local tax system is one system, not two separate and independent systems. In the American system of government, it is the states that determine the division of labor between themselves and their local governments. New York’s tax system (like every state’s tax system) is a combination of some state taxes and some local taxes with some of those taxes being regressive and others being progressive. While it is interesting to examine the distributional impact or fairness of individual taxes, the much more important question is the fairness or distributional impact of the state-local tax system as a whole.

Among the other points emphasized in Mauro’s testimony were the following:

  • A progressive income tax is good, not bad for the economy. It raises needed revenue in an equitable manner that does not reduce the resources available to families for meeting the cost of life’s necessities. A progressive income tax, for example, makes it possible to reduce the pressure on the property tax and to provide efficiently and effectively targeted property tax relief.
  • While migration files show that New York had a high rate of net domestic out-migration from 2000 to 2010, the IRS’s bottom line income tax data shows that New York’s share of the highest income taxpayers and its share of the income of the highest income taxpayers increased over this same period. Over the ten year period, from 2000 to 2010, the number of federal taxpayers with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) above $1 million increased 17.1 percent nationally but 38.9 percent in New York State; and the amount of these taxpayers’ AGI increased 20.8 percent  nationally but 57.4 percent for federal taxpayers from New York.
  • New York State should not provide tax subsidies for companies that outsource jobs or otherwise reduce employment in the state. Economic development tax breaks should only go to businesses that create and maintain good-paying jobs in the state.
  • Loopholes and tax breaks that allow large, multi-state and multi-national corporations to pay proportionately less in state income taxes than small businesses should be fixed or eliminated. And the integrity of the Corporate Alternate Minimum tax should be restored so that large, profitable corporations are not able to reduce their tax liability below a reasonable percentage of net income.
  • Provisions of law that allow investment management income to be taxed less than wages or other business income should be eliminated.
  • New York State should reduce the pressure that it places on the local property tax by increasing revenue sharing (now called Aid and Incentives for Municipalities) and by increasing (on an “ability to pay” basis) the state share of the cost of both education and Medicaid.
  • New York State should provide targeted tax relief to long-time residents for whom, through no fault of their own, property taxes on their primary residences have come to represent an inordinate share of their income.