New Census Data: A Preliminary Analysis

Digital Briefs

September 14, 2017

Today, the United States Census Bureau released data for 2016 on income and poverty levels in New York City.  There was a fair amount of good news.  The poverty rate declined from 20.0% in 2015 to 18.9% in 2016, bringing it to within less than a point of its 2008 pre-recession level.  Importantly, the decrease in poverty rate was felt across racial/ethnic groups, with blacks and Latinos enjoying the largest decreases in poverty of nearly two percentage points each. The child poverty rate decreased two points, from 28.6% in 2015 to 26.6% in 2016, statistically unchanged from 2008.

After increasing 5% last year, median household income increased another 4% from $52,509 to $57,976 in 2016, putting it over its 2008 pre-recession peak of just under $57,000 (all amounts in 2016 dollars) and unlike last year, median income for families with children not only kept pace with overall household income growth, but exceeded it. Median income for families with children increased 10% from $52,509 in 2015 to just under $58,000 in 2016, well ahead of its 2008 level of just under $56,000.

Amidst this welcome news, there are some areas of concern:

Poverty in Staten Island

Every borough – including Staten Island – experienced reductions in the poverty rate from 2015 to 2016.  However, at 13.2% in 2016, the poverty rate in Staten Island is still 3.2 points higher than before the recession, by far the largest gap of the five boroughs.  Staten Island was the lone borough in which the child poverty rate increased from 2015 to 2016, and at 19.1% is 4.3 points higher than before the recession.

Income gains concentrated in Manhattan and Brooklyn

While every borough experienced income gains from 2015 to 2016, the extent to which boroughs have exceeded their pre-recession median incomes varies drastically.  The median household income in Brooklyn in 2016 is 14% higher than before the recession.  In every other borough, median household income is either lower or statistically unchanged from before the recession.  For families with children, median income is up 37% in Manhattan compared to before the recession, and 12% in Brooklyn; no other borough has experienced such substantial gains compared to before the recession.

Widening of Racial/Ethnic Income Gap since Recession

The gap in median household income between racial/ethnic groups widened drastically during the recession and, in some cases, is continuing to grow.  In 2008, white households had a median income that was 75% higher than black households, 31% percent higher than Asian households, and 106% higher than Latino households.  Those numbers increased substantially during the recession, and in 2016, white households had a median income 83% higher than black households, 38% higher than Asian households, and 115% higher than Latino households.

There is much to celebrate in the latest poverty and income numbers, but it is important to consider whether these gains are being felt equally across our large and diverse city.  The positive trends in poverty and income – particularly in the past year – should not mask the persistent and, in some cases increasing disparities that exist geographically and between racial/ethnic groups.  Furthermore, while returning to pre-recession levels has been a difficult goal to reach, we hope that momentum can be continued to further reduce the number of residents – especially children – living in poverty and economically insecure households.


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