By SAM ROBERTS
The rise in New York City’s poverty rate as a result of the recession has apparently eased, but not before pushing nearly half of the city’s population into the ranks of the poor or near-poor in 2011, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg administration.
That year, according to the city’s measure, about 46 percent of New Yorkers were making less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold, a benchmark used to describe people who are not officially poor but who still struggle to get by. That represents a rise of more than three percentage points since 2009, when the nation’s recession officially ended.
By the city’s definition, a family with two adults and two children could earn $46,416 a year and still fall within 150 percent of the city’s poverty level. Unlike the official but rigid federal poverty level, the city’s measure balances the added value of tax credits, food stamps, rent subsidies and other benefits against expenses like health and day care, housing and commuting that reflect New York’s higher living costs. The city says a two-adult, two-child family is poor if it earns less than $30,949 a year. The federal government sets the level at $22,811.
Though more New Yorkers were working in 2011 than the year before, larger shares of children and working adults were classified as poor in 2011, and the proportions of Asians, noncitizens and Queens residents — overlapping groups — each rose by more than four percentage points since 2008.
The city’s analysis warned that cutbacks in federal programs could threaten any recovery and place pressure on the next mayor to maintain or expand public assistance.
“The recent increase in the state minimum wage affects the working poor and near-poor, and paid sick days are important, but missing rungs in the ladder make it really hard to climb out of poverty,” said Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy research and advocacy at the Community Service Society, which lobbies on behalf of the poor.
“The next mayor is going to face a very difficult budget situation in which he or she will struggle to maintain basic services and have little room to expand welfare-related programs or services to needy New Yorkers, a fiscal situation that is getting very little attention in the current mayoral race,” said Steven Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative group.
Mark Levitan, director of poverty research for the mayor’s Center for Economic Opportunity and the author of the city’s analysis, said those he called the near-poor — people making up to 50 percent above the poverty level — were often not eligible for food stamps and other federal benefits available to the poor because of their higher incomes.
Without tax credits and food stamps, the proportion of poor people would have soared to nearly one in three, according to the analysis by the center, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg established in 2006 to devise innovative antipoverty strategies.
In the five years after that, though, more New Yorkers plunged into poverty — 21.3 percent by the federal rate and 23.6 percent by the city’s own standard were poor in 2011 compared with 19.8 percent by both measures in 2007, before the recession. Still, while the city’s measure is the highest since it was first calculated in 2005, the official rate is lower in New York than in many other major cities.
While the center’s annual report, to be released this week, suggested that a better job market may have reversed the rising poverty in 2012, its outlook for this year and beyond was more problematic.
“Coinciding with the end of the slump in the job market is the end of the recession-related expansion of the safety net,” Dr. Levitan wrote, which could reduce food stamp benefits on top of prior cutbacks in unemployment insurance, tax credits and the payroll tax rate.
With some government programs under fire in Washington, Dr. Levitan credited those benefits and others with keeping more people out of poverty. Without food stamps alone, the city’s poverty rate would have soared by 3.6 percentage points.
Housing subsidies and the tax system make the biggest dents in the poverty rate (lowering the rate by 6.2 percent and 3.6 percent) while unreimbursed medical care drains income and drives more people into poverty (another 2.9 percent) than any other nondiscretionary expense.
Dr. Levitan said the center’s role was “to create pilot and demonstration projects” and that “by their very nature they have a very limited number of people in them.”
Poverty rates declined among single adults with children, but rose most among Hispanic and Asian New Yorkers. The report said that since 2008, the rate was “remarkably” flat among blacks.
Since 2005, the Bronx has remained the poorest borough. The poverty rate in Manhattan then was about the same as in Queens, but it is now about even with Staten Island, which used to have the lowest share of poor people.
“In the very short term, I’m sort of an optimist,” Dr. Levitan said. “Looking further, I see storm clouds with tremendous pressure for austerity. My fear is that we are moving to another dynamic where employment and earnings are rising and the safety net is contracting