STUDY EXPLORES PERVASIVENESS OF DISADVANTAGE OVER TIME

New York, NY—Deprivation hit a shocking 63 percent of New York City households at some point over the course of a year, concludes the newest Poverty Tracker survey conducted by Columbia University in partnership with Robin Hood. That figure exceeds by 10 percent what prior research found at a snapshot in time. For some, deprivation took the form of generalized low income or what is traditionally defined as “poverty”. For others, deprivation took the form of specific material hardships, such as: hunger, eviction, cutoff of phone or electricity. Still others suffered from a chronic, debilitating illness. Among other surprising findings: though relatively few households remained income poor from one year to the next (less than 10 percent), nearly a quarter of families suffered severe material hardships for prolonged periods.

The latest Poverty Tracker report, “The Dynamics of Disadvantage in New York City,” surveyed 2,300 households across all income levels throughout the five boroughs. Launched in 2012, Poverty Tracker is an ongoing initiative undertaken by Columbia University’s Population Research Center and Robin Hood, the largest poverty-fighting organization in New York. This report, the first release of longitudinal information in the series, describes disadvantage in New York from the start of the project to a follow-up one year later.

The Poverty Tracker looks at three distinct, but interrelated disadvantages: income poverty, annual resources that fall below a NYC-specific poverty line; material hardship, the chronic or acute inability to make ends meet, e.g., running out of food; and poor health, defined here as a condition that limits the work one can do.

“The results are striking. For the first time we have a dynamic picture of how low income New Yorkers move into and out of poverty,” said Michael Weinstein, chief program officer at Robin Hood. “The report gives us critical information – a new, clearer understanding – that we need to consider as we work to achieve our poverty fighting mission and alleviate the suffering of our neighbors.”

Highlights of the findings include:

  1. Disadvantage is pervasive. A majority of New Yorkers (63%) experienced at least one of the three defining criteria of disadvantage—poverty, material hardship or poor health—at some point during the survey period.
  2. Severe material hardship is the most persistent form of disadvantage, with nearly one in four New Yorkers (23%) reporting a chronic or acute inability to make ends meet at both the start of the survey and one year later. Persistence was lower for poor health (17%) and poverty (9%).
  3. Poverty is dynamic. Only 9% of New Yorkers experienced poverty throughout the entire survey period, while nearly one quarter (22%) reported incomes below the poverty line at either the start of the Poverty Tracker, or the follow up survey one year later.
  4. Assets levels are predictive of vulnerability to both poverty and material hardship. The fewer assets a person owns the more likely their chances of facing either poverty or hardship. Conversely, the more debts a person holds, the more likely are their chances of facing hardship. But, those with higher debt were less likely to face poverty, probably because households need higher incomes to qualify for some kinds of loans.
  5. Although seeking help from government or social services agencies has only a small effect on escaping poverty or hardship, it seems to protect against experiencing disadvantage in the first place.

“We’re just beginning to dig into the causal relationships and trying to understand what can prevent people from slipping into – and what can pull them out of – disadvantage,” said Christopher Wimer, project director for the Poverty Tracker study at Columbia University’s Population Research Center. “But the Poverty Tracker results are encouraging, demonstrating that those who report receiving the help they need are less likely to enter poverty or hardship, and more likely to escape those conditions, than those who received none of the help they sought.”

To explore the data in an interactive visualization (developed by Fathom Information Design) and see the full report, visit povertytracker.robinhood.org.

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