The Income Chasm in New York City


Census data from the 2010 Census about poverty in New York City came as no surprise. In “New York City Poverty Rate Rises As Gap Between Rich And Poor Widens,” (The Huffington Post, September 20, 2012) reports that poverty in the city rose for a third straight year with about 74,000 people falling below the poverty line of $11,500 for a single person ($23,210 for a family of four). The Post cited a New York Times report that 21 percent of New Yorkers were considered poor, while the top fifth income bracket in the city had income of $223,285, up $1,919 from 2010. The median income of the lowest fifth, however, was $8,844, a decrease of $463 from 2010. Manhattan recorded a jump of 1.9 percent in poverty in 2011, with the Bronx having the highest poverty rate of the five boroughs at 30.4 percent. The article quotes a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, stating that the Times report “mirrored a national trend.”

I recently spoke with Sarah, a worker at a homeless shelter in Manhattan, to talk about the issues of poverty and race. Sarah began our discussion with a comment about the cost of housing in the city. She stated that the average cost of a one room apartment in the city is $3,300 a month. With the high cost of housing and the increasing rate of poverty in the city, Sarah asked, “At that cost, where are poor people supposed to live?”

According to Sarah, there are no new Section 8 (federal housing subsidies) to be had, and the city got rid of the Work Advantage program three years ago. “They got rid of this rental subsidy program for people who came out of drug treatment programs, which left this homeless class of people paying rent at the going market value.”

New York’s Human Resource Administration and the Department of Homeless Services require that homeless people “work full time and save 60 percent of their income for an apartment. Most people are being pushed into $8, $9, or $10 per hour jobs that can’t nearly reach the 60 percent income threshold for housing costs. The homeless also can’t be expected to pay for other necessities with the hourly wages that are currently paid.”

Sarah spoke about the state of job training programs in the city. “Job training programs are not encouraged because they’re not work programs. School is completely out. So there are no paths for people to follow to improve their income earning potential.”

Back to the subject of housing, Sarah observed, “Do the math: people end up back in single room occupancy units (SROs) at $500, $600, or $700 per month. And the SROs are depressing. Living in a single room long term is both sad and impossible with children.”

Sarah sees the process of gentrification, which has been going on for decades in New York City as one of the causes of the perfect storm of homelessness that she sees daily. “Gentrification is the result of a political and an economic system that caters to the rich. The city is so gentrified that even the original gentrifiers can’t afford to live here anymore. Housing in the borough of Manhattan is not even affordable to college graduates any longer.”

The homeless shelter that Sarah works in provides services for men. Most men who use the shelter have no family, have developmental disabilities, are illiterate, and have behavioral problems.  Sarah says that the system “tells them to get a job.” Almost all of the men in the shelter are black or Hispanic. The system is “punitive” according to Sarah. “If the men don’t go into the city’s work programs, then they try to filter them into $8 per hour jobs. Back to work programs are places where men wait until they’re offered dead-end jobs. Most of the men of color in the program have petty criminal offenses in their records that make it even harder for them to even get $8 per hour jobs.  And rooming programs require credit checks that the men’s petty offenses may turn up on.”

Sarah sees several forces working against black men who use the shelter. They have to deal with criminal records for petty offenses, they’re displaced by gentrification, and the result is that there is an ongoing destruction of existing black communities. They don’t have the kind of education to succeed in this economy and they can’t subsist on $9 per hour jobs. She views the city’s stop and frisk policy as a purposeful effort to give people criminal records. Since 2002 the city has conducted five million stop and frisks, a policy of both the Bloomberg administration and the New York Police Department that has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal district judge. “Judge Rules NYPS ‘Stop and Frisk’ Unconstitutional, Cites ‘Indirect Racial Profiling’” (Democracy Now, August 13. 2013).

Sarah’s experiences as a worker at a homeless shelter are reflected in Census data and the continuing and widening gap between the haves and the have nots. Her account of what is happening to a segment of the population in New York City is a telling indictment of the system of Jim Crow and the war on the working class that lives on in this nation today.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He can be reached at howielisnoff@gmail.com.


Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He can be reached at howielisnoff.wordpress.com.

November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”