Bloomberg's Anti-Poverty Record: Right or Wrong?

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Glenn Pasanen, public finance columnist for Gotham Gazette, talked about Mayor Bloomberg's anti-poverty policies, and Daniel Massey, reporter for Crain's New York Business, discussed his article on "The Blossoming Bronx." 

A day after the head of the Administration for Children's Services called it quits, Glenn Pasanen criticized Mayor Bloomberg's approach to fighting poverty as "unreal." He argued that the Mayor has consistently cut funding from city's anti-poverty programs and agencies while trying to make his mark with small privately funded pilot programs that show limited success. Poverty in the city has remained steady, at about 20 percent of the population, with one percent living in deep poverty, even as the city has added millionaires and billionaires.

Bloomberg has said that taxpayer money should not be spent on unproven experiments, but private money is OK. Some of his touted anti-poverty measures involve directly giving incentives to poor families, for example, paying parents if their children achieve better attendance records. Pasanen considers the Mayor's approach evident of a free-market analysis, and he doesn't buy it:

That's to say the problem is not with institutions, with the local economy, the problem is with the individual family, and if you can just incentivize the family, whether it's a high school kid or a mother and father, then that will solve the problem.

One the other hand, Daniel Massey thinks that the Bloomberg administration deserves some credit for the blossoming of the Bronx, the city's poorest borough, over the last 10 years. In the last decade the Bronx has seen an influx of 52,000 people, higher wages, job growth, and become a magnet for immigrants. Massey said the city's investment in 35,000 new units of affordable housing has directly led to economic development:

Once you have the people coming back you're starting to see the demand, and while their income may be lower than in the rest of the city, they have to shop and you have a new million square foot mall near Yankee stadium, you have supermarket that are being added on Webster Avenue, you have the first significant commercial development in the Bronx, the city's developing four different sites now.

It's not all rosy in the Bronx, of course, because despite the rise in personal income, it's still 71 percent lower than the city average. And if the poverty rate held steady in the city overall, the poor may have just shifted geographically. But to take a step back, it's remarkable the city's poverty rate didn't increase during the recession. Could New York be doing something right?