Almost 2.7 million New Yorkers, or 13.9% of the state’s population, lived in poverty in 2021, compared to 12.8% of all Americans, according to the first in a series of reports released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli examining “New Yorkers in Need.” While poverty rates in the state declined prior to the pandemic, they were higher in 2021 than in 2019. New York ranked 13th among all states and had a higher rate of people in poverty than neighboring states and most large states.
“While economic hardships existed long before the pandemic, it deepened the financial stress experienced by many households,” DiNapoli said. “We saw what a large and broad federal response achieved, as the country made historic progress in the fight against poverty. Continued federal resources, along with a greater equity in state services, can help improve the lives of New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet.”
DiNapoli’s report found:
- Poverty rates are more than double for Hispanic New Yorkers compared to white, non-Hispanics. Black, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander and American Indian New Yorkers experienced poverty at twice the rate of white New Yorkers. One-fifth of New York’s Hispanic population was below the poverty level in 2021, a decrease of five percentage points from 2010. Poverty rates in 2021 for Black and Asian New Yorkers were three percentage points less than in 2010.
- Poverty rates in counties ranged from 5.7% in Nassau and Putnam to 24.4% in the Bronx. Although there are differences in challenges faced by residents of rural and urban communities, aggregate poverty rates were nearly uniform in 2020. However, rates were significantly higher in some cities. In Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo one out of every four people were living in poverty, and one in four families in Syracuse and one in five in Rochester were living in poverty in 2021.
- Families with female heads of household with no spouse experienced poverty at more than two times the rate for all families and four times the rate of married couples. Nearly 23% were in poverty in 2021, down almost five percentage points from 2010 but still higher than the percentage for families and for married couples in 2021.
- Poverty rates were much higher for children than for adults, including seniors. In 2021, the percent of population under 18 and below the poverty level in New York was 18.5%, 4.6 percentage points higher than for the overall population. Child poverty has declined from roughly 21% in 2010. However, poverty rates increased for seniors while decreasing for all others between 2010 and 2021.
- Poverty rates declined substantially as educational levels increased. In 2021, less than 6% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher were in poverty, but the rate for those with less than a high school degree was almost five times greater.
The Official Poverty Measure (OPM) is determined by the U.S. Census Bureau based on survey data of income and family size and composition, compared to thresholds that reflect the dollar amount required to meet the needs for different sized families. Income is defined before taxes, not including non-cash benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps. In 2021, the threshold, updated for inflation, was $13,788 for one person and $27,740 for a household of four.
As noted in the report, alternative measures of poverty show greater numbers of households in need. For example, close to one-third of all households surveyed by the Census Bureau during the pandemic reported at least some difficulty in August 2020 in paying household expenses. The share increased over the next three months to 40% and remained elevated through mid-March 2021. Difficulty in paying for household expenses started increasing again by September 2021 and continued to rise through 2022. In October 2022, this rate was 47.1% in New York.
The Social Safety Net and Impact of Pandemic Relief
DiNapoli’s report found more than $115 billion in public resources from federal, state, and local governments are used each year to assist low-income families. The federal government funds the bulk of the safety net, providing 87% of funding for major assistance and tax credit programs identified in the report.
The federal government took significant action during the pandemic to provide extraordinary support to individuals and families by expanding the eligibility for many programs, and by implementing other supports including unemployment benefits, economic impact payments, or “stimulus checks,” and expansion of the Child Tax Credit.
Several analyses by the Census Bureau and research institutes found that a comprehensive response from the federal government during the pandemic resulted in an unprecedented drop in the poverty rate. The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), an alternative calculation of poverty, dropped from the national average of 11.8% in 2019 to 9.2% in 2020 and 7.8% in 2021, the lowest rates since the Census Bureau started reporting SPM rates. SPM rates are based on out-of-pocket spending for all household members, are adjusted for geographic differences, and include the value of non-cash benefits available.
DiNapoli said alleviating poverty in a sustained manner must be an intergovernmental effort, with the federal government continuing to play the largest and most significant part as the level of government best equipped to intervene effectively. In particular, the federal government should:
- Continue to evaluate alternative measures and update them as necessary to allow for accurate assessments of need that reflect modern living standards.
- Assess current programs for potential improvements, including the adequacy of benefit amounts and flexibility in local administration.
- Continue and expand effective interventions, like those administered during the pandemic, that have demonstrated a meaningful reduction in poverty.
DiNapoli commended the state for setting the laudable goal of reducing child poverty by 50% over the next decade and said reaching the goal should involve formalizing a cross-agency effort that involves data-sharing, improved evaluation and reporting, and coordinated management. In addition, the state should ensure those eligible for assistance are aware of and can easily access program services and assistance and commit to greater equity in state services to target resources to those who need them the most.
This report is the first in a series examining poverty in New York. Subsequent reports will look at specific dimensions of poverty, including food insecurity and housing insecurity.
“State Comptroller DiNapoli’s report presents sobering realities faced by New Yorkers in need of all ages, backgrounds, and locations across our state,” said State Senator Roxanne J. Persaud (Brooklyn), Chair of the Senate Social Services Committee. “Too many children live in poverty, too many older New Yorkers face hunger and struggle to keep bills paid. I share the State Comptroller’s view that poverty measures are antiquated, failing to account for true costs of living, and I will continue to advocate for a State Self-Sufficiency Standard, among other measures, to ensure that New York state is enacting policy and delivering programs that truly meet the needs of all our neighbors. Significant progress has been made but many silos have yet to be merged.”
"The latest report from State Comptroller DiNapoli sheds light on the troubling trend of poverty and the unacceptably high levels of poverty among people with disabilities,” said State Senator John W. Mannion (Syracuse), Chairman of the Disabilities Committee. “We must work together to ensure that all members of our community have the support and resources they need to overcome poverty and achieve financial stability. This is a priority for me in the Senate and I’ll continue to push for solutions like the historic expansion of the Preferred Source program that can make a real difference in the lives of those who are most in need.”
"Despite being home to some of the wealthiest people in the U.S., New York state also has the dismal distinction of ranking 13th in poverty rates nationwide, according to State Comptroller DiNapoli's eye-opening report," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (Manhattan), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Social Services. "Poverty rates have risen dramatically in recent years, in part due to the pandemic, and women, people of color, disabled people and other disadvantaged communities have borne the brunt of the increase. The report provides a roadmap to changing these dynamics, and I look forward to passing legislation that will invest in efforts to strengthen our social safety net, such as increasing outdated cash assistance grant levels, providing families with additional tax credits and expanding rental subsidies, all of which have never been more urgent."
“The breadth and depth of poverty in the City of Rochester and elsewhere throughout our state is absolutely unacceptable,” said Assemblymember Harry Bronson (Rochester), Chair of the Assembly Economic Development Committee. “Since being named chair of the Assembly’s Economic Development Committee in 2021, I have worked to make sure that racial, social, and economic justice is considered in every funding and policy decision we make so no one is left on the economic sidelines without opportunities or hope. We know to break the cycle of systemic poverty we must invest in programs that set our youth up for success which is why I introduced and helped pass the “Child Poverty Reduction Act.” This law established a child poverty reduction goal of 50% over 10 years holding New York state accountable while meeting the needs of more children and families. This report reveals we have a lot of work to do, but our families deserve nothing less.”
“I would like to thank State Comptroller DiNapoli and his staff for their work on this crucially important report which puts facts and figures behind the realities for millions of struggling New Yorkers,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (Queens), Chair of the Children and Families Committee. “I wholeheartedly agree with the State Comptroller’s recommendation to expand effective interventions that have demonstrated a meaningful reduction in poverty like the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. I look forward to working with the State Comptroller to implement these recommendations.”
“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused extremely challenging economic hardships for many New Yorkers, exacerbating our state’s existing cost-of-living crisis,” said Assemblyman Al Stirpe (Central New York). “State Comptroller DiNapoli’s report is a critical data-driven tool that helps map out the prevalence of poverty and unemployment in our state, especially among disabled New Yorkers. As we continue our economic recovery, it’s important that we work together with our partners in the federal government to reduce poverty rates and ensure residents can access the services and programs they need. I’ll continue working to ensure our families and most vulnerable neighbors are able to make ends meet.”
“This critical report by State Comptroller DiNapoli reminds us of the utter necessity and mandate for we New Yorkers to address the needs of our brothers and sisters who are systematically excluded from opportunities, because of their poverty,” said Rev. Richard Witt, Executive Director of the Rural & Migrant Ministry. “We must take specific concern for those families in rural New York who have little access to resources necessary to improve their lives. I truly hope this report will lead our policy makers to prioritize anti-poverty measures and that all of us, as New Yorkers, will commit to real change.”
“The report findings further evidence the breadth and depth of economic insecurity experienced by New Yorkers across several New York counties that for far too long has been undercounted using an outdated and flawed measurement”, said Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO of FPWA. “We at FPWA are calling on our government to develop and utilize more accurate measurements that calculate the true cost of living, and we look forward to working with Comptroller DiNapoli to achieve this critical change.”
“The United Way of New York State commends the State Comptroller for bringing a spotlight to poverty trends in New York State,” said Hugh Parry, United Way of New York State President. “Local United Ways across the state, work with their non-profit partners to provide services to those in need but have also seen first-hand the impact COVID-19 had on families that have not needed to seek support before. Today we are seeing a growing need for housing and rental supports. We remain committed to assist those in poverty and the many who struggle just above the federal poverty line to make ends meet. It is through our partnership with state government that we can connect those seeking help through our 2-1-1 information and referral 24/7/365 hotline. There’s great power in the public/private partnership to address poverty in New York state and we will need to continue to work together to implement strategies to ensure equity within services and funding.”
“Poverty is an urgent and solvable problem in a state as well-resourced as New York,” said Empire Justice Center President and CEO Kristin Brown. “This new report documents that, particularly during the pandemic, poverty harmed marginalized communities the most. Empire Justice Center applauds Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Governor Kathy Hochul for shining a light on the inequitable impact of poverty, and for presenting solutions. We support the recommendations in this report and from the Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council, particularly extending the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Empire State Child Tax Credit, and increasing the public assistance shelter allowance and basic needs grants. All together, these are concrete actionable steps that will move the needle on the goal of reducing poverty in New York state and we look forward to working toward their enactment in 2023.”
“The New York State Comptroller's report underscores that poverty is a policy choice. During the first two years of the pandemic, bold government interventions provided a lifeline for millions of New Yorkers. They helped forestall a massive increase in poverty and hardship amid massive job and income loss. Yet, the data also shows us that millions of New Yorkers remain in and near poverty, and stubborn racial and economic disparities exist,” said Richard Buery, Jr., CEO of Robin Hood. “Robin Hood applauds the report for calling for the restoration of pandemic-era policy reforms, like the expanded Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit and joins the Comptroller's office in urging New York State to adopt an all-hands-on-deck, collective commitment to reducing poverty for New Yorkers and their families.
New Yorkers In Need: A Look At Poverty Trends in New York State For The Last Decade
Track state and local government spending at Open Book New York. Under State Comptroller DiNapoli’s open data initiative, search millions of state and local government financial records, track state contracts, and find commonly requested data.