New York City Poverty Snapshot: ACS Analysis

Thomas J. Waters

Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau released its national poverty and income estimates for 2017, showing that the poverty rate in the United States finally went below pre-recession levels nine years after a financial crisis crashed the global economy. The national median income also caught up with its 2007 level.

Today, the Census Bureau released another set of numbers enabling us to look at the local side of the story. These numbers come from the American Community Survey (ACS), a survey with a larger sample size and a less economically focused set of questions than yesterday’s Current Population Survey (CPS).

New York City’s poverty rate declined from 18.9 percent in 2016 to 18.0 percent in 2017, its lowest level since 2008. As the first chart shows, the city’s poverty rate is persistently higher than the national rate, but the two generally move in parallel.

The median income in New York City changed very little after adjusting for inflation. It rose from $60,100 in 2016 to $60,900 in 2017, both in 2017 dollars. (The change was not statistically significant.) The city’s median rent also levelled off at $1,380. The rent freezes for rent stabilized apartments called by the de Blasio administration’s Rent Guidelines Board may help explain why rents, unusually, did not rise faster than inflation.

As the next chart shows, the key story is that incomes have recovered since the recession but not enough to compensate for the increase in rents, which continued during the recession years.

Given the stasis in both rents and incomes, it is not surprising that the median rent burden – that is, the typical share of income that New York City tenant households pay in rent – has also remained about the same at 31.7 percent.

The final chart shows how the city’s rent burdens rose rapidly during the recession and have since declined, but remain well above pre-recession levels. This is strikingly different from the national picture, where rent burdens have returned to their pre-recession levels.

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