Robin Hood Unplugged: Poverty Tracker


For a scientist working with a new set of data on poverty, it’s reassuring for an expectation to be proven right. But Robin Hood’s chief program officer, Michael Weinstein, says there’s nothing more exciting than finding something you didn’t expect.

That was one of the topics he discussed with NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan, the local television fixture who made a special cameo at Robin Hood’s offices for Robin Hood Unplugged, a monthly speaker series that offers insights into poverty. The two discussed the Poverty Tracker, a groundbreaking examination of the dynamics of poverty over time conducted by Robin Hood and Columbia University. The event attracted a diverse group of over 100 Robin Hood supporters, and comes on the heels of the publication of the latest findings from the ongoing Poverty Tracker study.


“What’s unique about the Poverty Tracker is that it’s a panel survey. It follows the same people quarter after quarter after quarter,” Weinstein said. “No other big city has this kind of data set.”

The study surveys the same 4,000 households each quarter to examine three types of deprivation: income poverty, severe material hardship (like running out of food or suspension of utilities) and poor health that affects the ability to work.
Kiernan asked why such a survey was valuable to an organization like Robin Hood.

“We set up a survey instrument that by returning to the same people we can answer key questions,” Weinstein explained. “If I see you’re poor in January and I re-interview you in April, I can ask what did you do about your poverty? Did you go for a job training program? If you found one, did you graduate from it? If you graduated, did you find a job? Did you keep that job for at least a year? And so on.”

The newest study showed that nearly three quarters of all New Yorkers experienced serious deprivation at some point during the last three years. It also explored the relationship between “shocks” that individual households suffer and deprivation.

The report examined five shocks: financial, crime, illness, arrest, and relationship dissolution or divorce. Researchers found a strong correlation between frequency of shocks and persistence of disadvantage. For instance, 86 percent of those suffering from persistent hardship also suffered multiple financial shocks. In contrast, only 39 percent of those reporting no hardship over the three years suffered multiple financial shocks.

To explore the data, visit

Michael Weinstein has served as Robin Hood’s chief program officer since 2002. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from MIT and has served on the editorial board of The New York Times and as the Times’ economics columnist.

Pat Kiernan has been NY1’s morning anchor since 1997. In addition, to delivering the news, he is the author a new children’s book Good Morning City. The book is currently on sale and for the next two weeks for every book sold, $5 will be donated to the Foundling, a Robin Hood-funded nonprofit that helps children and families in need.

The Robin Hood Unplugged series offers a deeper glimpse into poverty in New York City and the work that Robin Hood is doing to help our neighbors in need. Speakers include top philanthropic leaders, executive directors from Robin Hood funded programs, and Robin Hood staff members. Each gathering focuses on a specific topic and fosters an atmosphere that promotes questions and thoughtful discussions. If you are interested in attending, please email

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