In the final year of Michael Bloomberg's mayoralty, as Bill de Blasio's mayoral campaign critiqued rising economic inequality in the city, New York's poverty rate barely budged. The citywide rate wavered slightly, from 21.2 percent to 20.9 percent, according to figures released Thursday by the Census Bureau.
The 2013 figures—which could serve as the yardstick against which de Blasio's efforts to reduce income polarization are measured—showed little change when broken down by race, educational attainment, or wok experience, though there was a 1.6 point drop in the child poverty rate, which stood at 29.8 percent last year.
But in the boroughs, more pronounced changes were visible. Staten Island's child poverty rate jumped from 14.6 percent to 18.7 percent, while the rate in Manhattan among seniors climbed from 17.9 percent to 19.4 percent and among blacks moved from 27.4 percent to 34.6 percent. The child poverty rate dropped slightly in the Bronx and Brooklyn, and more significantly—by 2.5 percentage points, to 20.7 percent—in Queens.
At the start of his second term, Mayor Bloomberg pledged to achieve within four years a substantial reduction in poverty in the city. That did not occur: While the rate in 2013 was lower than the 2012 figure, it was still higher than any other year since 2007. The recession certainly had something to do with the rate's persistence.
In addition, the Bloomberg administration's anti-poverty efforts focused on piloting innovative, often very promising, approaches, but the reach of those initiatives was fairly small. (The former mayor's Center for Economic Opportunity make great efforts toward improving the measurement of poverty: The federal poverty indicator used by the Census Bureau is flawed in a number of ways.)
De Blasio has promised to reduce not poverty per se but income inequality, a phenomenon that is as much about the rich and middle class as it is about the poor.
But most of the policy tools available to municipal government target low-income people, so progress toward a more equal and just city during the de Blasio years will be measured in part by what happens to the poverty figures, with 2013 as a benchmark.
Distribution of income, 2013