Much was made – both nationwide and in New York City – of the 5 percent increase in median household income from 2014 to 2015, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures, signaling a near full recovery from the Great Recession according to that important metric. And there was additional good news in New York City, with the poverty rate declining by nearly a full point – from 20.9 to 20.0 percent. The child poverty rate – at 28.6 percent in 2015 – continues to drop from its recession era peak of 31.4 percent.
These data points – now updated and available on Keeping Track Online – give us an idea of the conditions New York City’s children are growing up in. We know that living in an economically insecure household can cause stress on both parents and children, with potentially significant impacts on child development. The effects of living in a poor household – and possibly without secure housing – can influence a child’s health, education and exposure to positive influences and opportunities.
That’s why it’s good news that incomes are up and poverty rates are down. Now, for the not so good news. While median household income overall has returned to within about $500 of its 2008 pre-recession peak (in 2015 dollars), median income for families with children continues to lag. The median income for families with children rose just 2 percent from 2014 to 2015, and is still nearly $3,400 less than in 2008.
And while the latest Census Bureau numbers indicate some progress at the city level, it is important to recognize disparities in the pace of recovery across the boroughs, and the potential widening of inequality between the lowest and highest risk communities in the city. As the chart below shows, income growth among families with children varies dramatically depending on which of the city’s five boroughs you are looking at. In Manhattan and Brooklyn, things do appear to be looking up. In the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, there is still lots of ground to make up.
The lack of growth in income among families with children – particularly in certain parts of the city – is especially troubling given rising rents. From 2008 to 2015, median monthly rent in New York City increased $168 (in 2015 dollars), equaling an over $2,000 annual increase. And it’s not as if the boroughs that continue to see their incomes lag were spared rent hikes. With the exception of Staten Island – which has a significantly higher share of homeowners than the rest of the city – rents have increased across the city. In Queens, for example, while the median income for families with children is down over $7,500 dollars since the recession, median annual rent is up nearly $2,100. That’s an almost $10,000 hole in the average Queens family’s pocketbook.
The good news on the child poverty front is also tempered by continued disparities between the boroughs. Child poverty remains the highest in the Bronx at 42.9 percent, more than twice the citywide rate. In many communities, over half of children are living in poor households. Despite the slow improvement in the child poverty rate, over half a million New York City children are growing up poor, and a quarter of these children live in 8 of the city’s 59 community districts.
While the news on median household income and poverty in New York City is a step in the right direction, New York City’s children and families – particularly those residing outside Manhattan and Brooklyn – are far from recovered from the recession. In order to improve a situation where too many children are growing up in dire economic conditions, New York City will have to accelerate and expand efforts to help low-income families get ahead.
Hetali Jokhakar is the policy associate for research and data analysis at the Citizens’ Committee for Children.