New Census Data Reveal How Rising Income Inequality is Driving the Inequities at the Core of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Press Releases

September 24, 2020

In 2019, the richest quintile of New Yorkers earned seven times more annual income than those in the bottom quintile, according to a new analysis from Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. The increasingly uneven distribution of incomes created deeply entrenched inequities, increasing the health, housing, education, and safety risks to low-income children during the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed in stark terms how poverty and related factors place some New Yorkers at far greater risk than others, and low-income families are faced with painful, stress-inducing choices around paying rent, finding childcare, and supporting loved ones,” said Jennifer March, CCC’s executive director. “As the city and state face revenue shortfalls and tough budgetary choices, it must be stated: overcoming the wounds of this public health crisis will not be possible without addressing the vulnerabilities born of economic inequality.”

CCC’s analysis examines data released last week by the US Census Bureau from their annual American Community Survey, a survey of millions of households nationwide conducted each year to provide community-level information on demographics, economic conditions, housing and more. Continuing a dispiriting rise over the last decade, incomes for New Yorkers at the top of the economic ladder continued to outpace those at the bottom in 2019:

  • Since 2010, households earning at the 20th percentile have experienced only modest increases in annual income, up from $20,000 to $22,000 in 2019.
  • Meanwhile, the 80th percentile earners have seen much greater proportional income growth, rising from $126,000 to $154,000 over the same period.
  • In 2019, incomes at the 80th percentile were 6.9 times those earned at the 20th

The consequences of rising income inequality hit families of color and single mothers the hardest, exacerbating deep vulnerabilities for children from low-income households.

CCC analyzed the income distribution among families with children, splitting them into income quintiles to consider how the lowest quintile families (making $24,834 or less annually) compare with the highest quintile families (making $156,017 or more). The findings highlight the unique challenges that Black and Latina single mothers face and underscore how inequality is not purely a matter of economic class:

  • Among families with children in the lowest quintile, nearly half (48%) are headed by someone who is Hispanic/Latino and a quarter (25%) are headed by someone who is Black.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of families with children in the lowest income quintile are headed by a single female.
  • In contrast, the highest quintile families are predominantly (57%) white-headed households, and overwhelmingly (84%) married couples.

CCC’s analysis shows how extreme inequality reproduces economic, health, housing, education, and digital inequities, posing immense risks to the well-being of low-income children and barriers to their economic mobility:

  • Across families with children in the lowest quintile, roughly one in ten lack health insurance, compared to just one in fifty among families in the highest quintile. The same is true for lack of access to broadband internet.
  • More than three-quarters (78%) of families in the lowest quintile are severely rent burdened, paying more than half their income on rent; conversely, zero percent of families in the highest quintile are severely rent burdened.
  • Among adults heading families from the highest quintile, 79% have an associate’s, bachelor’s degree or higher, and 90% are participating in the labor market (either employed or actively seeking work). For adult household heads in the lowest quintile, these rates are just 21% and 58%, respectively.
  • Even at the earliest stages of development, children from the highest quintile have higher rates of enrollment in public or private early education for 3- and 4-year-olds.

In light of these findings, CCC urges government leaders to ensure that the needs of children from low-income communities are prioritized in both short-term recovery efforts and longer-term strategies that will promote child well-being and mitigate future crises.

To generate the necessary revenue for a fair and sustainable recovery and prevent cuts to vital services, CCC is calling for federal stimulus with direct aid to states and cities, federal and state revenue raisers and tax policy reforms, and for New York State lawmakers to grant municipal borrowing authority to the City of New York.

Federal, state, and local resources generated from these actions are critical to ensuring targeted investments in the safety net and building blocks of child development will not only help families escape the current deprivation caused by the pandemic, but also ensure families in the lowest income quintile do not face such heightened risks in the midst of future crises:

  • The city should continue its expansion of 3-K and create universal infant and toddler care with integrated child and family supports on site.
  • The state must expand rental subsidies through the Home Stability Support (HSS) bill to lift the tremendous cost burden off the backs of low-income families, and prevent the threat of evictions from becoming an even deeper homelessness crisis.
  • To incentivize the creation of sustainable, good-paying jobs, a universal basic income would grant bargaining power to youth entering the labor market and give working caregivers more financial security to raise children and avoid potential benefits cliffs.

“Across all measures of well-being, the data demonstrate that income inequality poses risk factors and prevents upward mobility for low-income families and their children,” said Bijan Kimiagar, CCC’s associate executive director for research. “Overcoming the wounds of this public health crisis will not be possible without addressing the social and economic vulnerabilities which enabled the virus to wreak havoc disproportionately on communities color in New York City. Extreme economic inequality and poverty are eminently surmountable. We just need to summon the will to act.”


About Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York 
Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York educates and mobilizes New Yorkers to make the city a better place for children. Since 1944, our advocacy has combined public policy research and data analysis with citizen action. We cast light on the issues, educate the public, engage allies, and identify and promote practical solutions to ensure that every New York City child is healthy, housed, educated and safe. For more information on CCC, visit our web site at

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