Disparities in poverty rates in NYC continue to persist according to race and ethnicity, family composition, and citizenship status. However, the City has made numerous efforts to combat poverty in recent years, and the impact of these may be reflected in the positive changes we saw within this topic this year. The City also launched several policies and initiatives in 2016 and 2017 that may contribute to change in the coming years.
At the topic level, recent policies to raise the minimum wage and initiatives to connect New Yorkers to better paying jobs have begun to affect poverty over the last year and may affect future indicator scores. In April 2016, Governor Cuomo signed legislation for a $15 minimum wage throughout New York State, which will be fully enacted in NYC by the end of 2019. Incremental wage increases have already begun: on December 31, 2016, the minimum wage in NYC went from $9 per hour to $11 per hour for companies with 11 employees or more, and to $10.50 per hour for companies with 10 employees or less. According to the 2017 OneNYC Report, this incremental change has already lifted an estimated 281,000 NYC residents out of poverty or near-poverty since 2013. The next minimum wage increase, to $13 or $12 per hour depending on company size, will be enacted on December 31, 2017. The City’s goal is to lift a total of 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty by 2025 through the full wage increase to $15 per hour combined with City workforce development programs.
Recent workforce development initiatives aimed specifically at improving employment prospects for NYC residents who participate in public assistance programs may help to reduce the number living in poverty. Since 2016, the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development has spearheaded the local program for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training program, which funds employment and education services for SNAP recipients. The Jobs-Plus program, implemented in 2009 and expanded in 2013, provides on-site job training and support, financial counseling, and rent-based work incentives within public housing developments. In addition, CareerCompass, CareerAdvance, and Business Link are all NYC programs that connect New Yorkers receiving public assistance to job opportunities and training.
In addition to income support for New Yorkers living in poverty, the City is creating programs for asset building, another anti-poverty strategy. While asset building has a more direct effect on wealth rather than poverty indicators per se, financial stability through savings can help keep people out of poverty by increasing their ability to weather financial emergencies. The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Financial Empowerment, along with Citi Foundation, the New Economy Project, and the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, launched the Collaborative for Neighborhood Financial Health in 2016. This program aims to assess the financial health of low- and moderate-income households in Bedford-Stuyvesant and East Harlem and develop community-based strategies for building personal assets and financial empowerment.
In addition to general poverty alleviation efforts, several NYC and NYS initiatives aim to specifically address food insecurity for low-income New Yorkers. Given that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, it’s possible that some of these efforts contributed to the small increase we saw in the race and food security indicator this year or may do so in the future. In 2016, the City allocated $4.9 million to support emergency food providers in NYC through the Emergency Food Assistance Program. In June 2017, the New York City Council approved an additional $18.4 million in funding for the program, which came as a relief to food security advocates who fear that more New Yorkers will need emergency food assistance due to the major proposed cuts to SNAP funding in the federal budget.
Access to SNAP specifically has been the focus of both state and local attention. In 2016, Governor Cuomo raised the income threshold for SNAP qualification, allowing an additional 750,000 people to be eligible for SNAP in New York State. During the same period, the NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA) streamlined the SNAP application and re-certification process to increase access for eligible New Yorkers. These two initiatives likely contributed to the first increase in New Yorkers receiving SNAP in three years in 2016 and may contribute to additional change in the indicator in future.
Other food security initiatives may address the disparities highlighted by the race and food security indicator due to the demographic context of targeted neighborhoods. For instance, the Green Carts program situates mobile vendors selling affordable produce in low-income neighborhoods throughout NYC. A 2014 evaluation of the program found that 44% of customers were near the federal poverty line and that 87% were racial and ethnic minorities. The two most represented customer groups were black (42%) and Hispanic (35%).