NYC’s 42% Residents Can’t Afford Basic Necessities

The cost of a basic family budget in New York City has increased by 45% since 2000 while the median earnings of adults increased by only 17% over the past 14 years, says a new report.

Posted on 12/21/14
By Staff | Via ViewsWeek
(Photo by Ed Yourdon, Creative Commons License)
(Photo by Ed Yourdon, Creative Commons License)

More than two in five New York City households—over 940,000 households—lack enough income to cover just the necessities, such as food, shelter, health care and child care. The cost of a basic family budget in New York City has increased by 45% since 2000 while the median earnings of adults increased by only 17% over the past 14 years, says the 2014 edition of the Self-Sufficiency Standard for NYC, released by the Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement at a forum at the New School.


The report, Overlooked and Undercounted: the Struggle to Make Ends Meet in New York City, is an update and extension of earlier basic budget reports prepared in 2000, 2005 and 2010.  The report was authored by Dr. Diana M. Pearce and produced by the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington. Funding to support the report was provided by the United Way of New York City, The New York Community Trust, and City Harvest.


Thirty-six percent of households in NYC with inadequate income are Latino, 25% are Black, 22% are White, 16% are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1% are Other Race (including Native American and Alaskan Native).


The Self-Sufficiency Standard reflects the cost of basic necessities—housing, food, clothing, child care, health care, transportation, and taxes—without any “frills” like eating out or vacations. The standard varies by neighborhood of residence within NYC because housing is such a large part of a family’s budget, and it differs depending on family composition and the age of children. The standard represents the amount of income a family needs to pay for necessities without reliance on public or private subsidies. It is much higher than the federal poverty line but is far from what could be considered a “middle class” standard of living, for example, it does not include any allowance for college or retirement savings, or saving to buy a home. Saving for college is critical to upward mobility and buying a home is the main way most families build assets.


City Harvest, which helps feed more than 1.4 million New Yorkers facing hunger each year, says nearly 20% of New York City residents currently live in poverty.


The full report includes a datafile of tables providing borough-specific information for 152 family types. Budget standards are compiled for 7 geographic areas within New York City: Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, North and South Manhattan (96th Street is the dividing line), and Northwest Brooklyn (neighborhoods directly north and west of Prospect Park) and the rest of Brooklyn. South Manhattan and Northwest Brooklyn are separated out because housing costs are so much higher in those areas than in the rest of the city.


To take one example for a 4-person family with two adults, a preschooler and a school-age child, the Self-Sufficiency Standard budget ranges from $70,319 in the Bronx, to $98,836 in South Manhattan. The budgets for Brooklyn other than Northwest Brooklyn, Staten Island, North Manhattan, and Queens are within a fairly narrow range from $73,000-$76,000. Northwest Brooklyn’s budget for this family type would be a little over $79,000.


According to 2014 Food Metrics Report, Bronx topped the list of boroughs in terms of food insecurity where 21.8 percent of the residents were found to be food insecure, followed by Brooklyn (20.1%), Manhattan (16.2%), Queens (14%), and Staten Island (10.5%). Manhattan The New York City Council established reporting requirements for a variety of city agency initiatives related to food (Local Law 52 of 2011).


The key findings of the Self-Sufficiency Standard for NYC report included:

  • 940,000 NYC households, representing 2.7 million people, lack enough income to cover basic necessities such as food, shelter, health care, and child care.
  • With over half (56%) of all households below the Standard, the Bronx has the highest overall income inadequacy rate in the city. Not far behind is Brooklyn (excluding Northwest) (49%), followed by North Manhattan (45%), and Queens (43%).
  • 83% of the households below the Standard in NYC have one or more workers.
  • While 80% of the people without a high school diploma are living below the Standard, education is not a guarantee—21% of all people with a 4-year college degree still have inadequate wages.
  • 25% of NYC households with incomes below the Standard are married-couple households, 23% are single-women households with children, and 5% are single-men households with children; 47% are households without children.
  • Households with children are at a greater risk of not meeting their basic needs. 59% of families with children have incomes below the adequacy level, and if there is a child under six, 65% have incomes below the Standard.
  • 79% of single mothers lack adequate income, and 68% of single fathers have inadequate incomes.
  • All race-ethnic groups are significantly affected: 36% of households with inadequate incomes are Latino, 25% are Black, 22% are White, 16% are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1% are Other Race (including Native Americans.)
  • U.S. citizens head 71% of households below Self-Sufficiency and non-citizens head 29% of households with sufficiency income.
  • Reflecting race and/or gender inequities, women and/or people of color must have several more years of education than white males in order to achieve the same level of income adequacy.
  • The 5 occupations with the greatest number of workers whose incomes put them below the Self-Sufficiency Standard are, in numerical order, home health aides (60,000), janitors and building cleaners (29,000), childcare workers (27,000), cashiers (23,000), and maids and house cleaners (22,000).


An advisory committee identified three primary recommendations:

1)     Wages should be increased to align and keep pace with the costs of living by raising the minimum wage and broadening the coverage of the City’s living wage requirements to include the large social service workforce employed under City service contracts (higher wages should be coupled with better career advancement supports);

2)     Access to better employment requires investment by business, government and philanthropy in career ladders, pathways and apprenticeships with consistent, systematic, and large-scale opportunities for individual growth and advancement across sectors and industries;

3)     Policy solutions also need to address the cost of living side by making quality, affordable housing, food, and child care accessible to all New Yorkers.


The report notes that while a minimum wage increase to $13.13 an hour (which could be achieved with a $10.10 NYS minimum wage plus local authority to allow NYC to set a minimum wage 30% higher) or a $15 an hour wage floor for social service works on City contracts represent considerable progress, these critical wage floors should not be construed as ceilings.  These wage levels would provide a worker with annual earnings around $25,000-$30,000. Neither wage constitutes a self-sufficiency wage for a substantial portion of the 780,000 working households below the Self-Sufficiency Standard.  But they would put many thousands on a more certain path to attain self-sufficiency.


“These data show that there are many more people in New York City who lack enough income to meet their basic needs than our government’s official poverty statistics capture. This lack of sufficient income to meet basic needs is grossly undercounted largely because most American institutions do not utilize the more accurate metrics available today that measure what it takes to lead a life of basic dignity,” concludes the report.



A similar report for Washington State figured prominently in the Seattle campaign that led to the enactment of a $15 an hour minimum wage.


Major part of this report were extracted from a post on Fiscal Policy Institute‘s Website.


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