More City Families Are Falling Into Poverty

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New York City families are making less money, struggling to pay rent and falling into poverty — and, with poverty increasing in all boroughs except Manhattan, nearly a fifth of families on the city are on food stamps.

The number of New York families living below the poverty level rose from 15.8 percent to 17 percent between 2009 and 2010, while nearly a fifth of New Yorkers are on food stamps, according to the annual U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.

New Yorkers living below poverty also rose from 18.7 percent to 20.1 percent.

The poverty rate increased in all boroughs except Manhattan. The Bronx had the highest poverty rate in the city at 30.2 percent, and one of the highest in the nation.

Twenty-one year old Jennifer Steele, who lives in the Bronx, said being poor led her down a desperate path.

"I found myself going to the limit, to prostitution. And I just said I couldn't and I just pulled myself out of that as broke as I was, I pulled myself out of that and I said, if I go hungry, I go hungry, but my kids have to eat, but the prostitution, I just can't do that," she said.

Steele, who is a single mother of two, is living with her grandmother and is determined to get out of poverty for her daughters.

Single mothers with small children fared the worst economically, with more than 41 percent living below the poverty line. The number of struggling single moms is the highest it's been since 2006.

The statistic came as no surprise to single mom Gloria Colon, who's trying to get by on $627 a month.

"And from that check I support my daughter, my granddaughter and my other daughter. From that I have to buy the baby's milk, the baby's pampers, her wet ones, food for all the girls. It's very, very hard," she said. She hasn't been able to afford her rent and is about to lose her public housing apartment.

Family median income in New York City fell 6 percent between 2009 and 2010 to $53,593 — the lowest it’s been since 2006, according to the annual survey. Median income for males was $45,496, a slight decrease from 2009 where the median income was $46,752. The median income for women was $42,169.

The data also shows that 44 percent of New Yorkers are spending more than a third of their income on rent — an increase of almost 2 percentage points over the prior year. 

The survey found that 60 percent of New Yorkers paid $1,000 or more on rent, and the median rent in the city in 2010 was $1,129.

The annual survey provides data on a range of topics from family and relationships to education and where you live and how much you pay for essentials. Unlike the Census, the data is extrapolated from results.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the number of New Yorkers living below the poverty level rose from 15.8 to 17 percent. That is incorrect. The statistic applies to the number of New York families living below the poverty level. WNYC regrets the error.