New Study Shows 40% of NYC’s Working Families Don’t Make Enough Money to Afford the Basics

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New York, NY (November 14, 2018) – The Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement, United Way of New York City, City Harvest, and The New York Community Trust today announced the release of the 2018 Self-Sufficiency Standard Report, a study that determines the required income to achieve economic independence in each of New York City’s neighborhoods. With the cost of living raising nearly three times the rate of wages, 2.5 million New Yorkers are currently struggling to provide food, housing, and other basic necessities for themselves and their families.

“The 2018 Self-Sufficiency Report highlights the real life circumstances of 2.5 million members of New York City working families who are struggling to make ends meet because their income doesn’t cover the basic necessities,” said Merble Reagon, Executive Director of the Women's Center for Education and Career Advancement. “By defining ‘bare bones’ or ‘break even’ self-sufficiency budgets for more than 700 family types in each of seven New York City areas, this report will help to inform public policy initiatives designed to support these families as they move toward financial stability.”

“The self-sufficiency report aims a spotlight toward the critical issue of New Yorkers not being able to afford basic necessities—which is at an alarming rate of more than 900,000 households in New York City,” said Sheena Wright, President & CEO of United Way of New York City. “Our neighbors deserve an opportunity to succeed, and that’s why we are bringing together partners from corporations, government, and nonprofit to drive systems change through the targeted policy recommendations outlined in the report.”

The report’s findings were divided into sections based on race, gender, education and age to hone in on the minimum requirements to cover basic needs like food and housing while identifying the income needed to cover the cost of additional necessities, including transportation, childcare, healthcare and taxes among the diverse demographics of New York City.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard measures how much income is needed to meet NYC families’ basic needs, without any public or private assistance. The 2018 Self-Sufficiency Report found that in New York City:

  • Out of the 905,000 households with incomes below the self-sufficiency standard, 84 percent have at least one working adult.
  • The costs of basic needs are rising faster than overall inflation rates, leaving more families with the difficult decision of paying for rent versus food, childcare or healthcare, lights or heat.
  • Nearly 30% of non-white women with a bachelor’s degree or higher are on the brink of poverty, whereas only 20% of women in the white population are financially lacking in the same way.
  • 57% of native-born Latinos are financially lacking compared to 21% of native-born white residents.

The report also analyzed the boroughs with the highest and lowest self-sufficiency rates, demonstrating the geographic disparity. In the Bronx, the standard income needed to achieve self-sufficiency sits at $51,180 for an adult with one school-age child, yet more than half of the population lives below the self-sufficiency standard, with 24% of households living below the official Federal poverty threshold. This is a huge gap compared to the 28% of households in South Manhattan that live below the self-sufficiency standard with only 7% of households below the official poverty threshold.

Deborah Bailey, a South Bronx resident and mother of four, struggles with the rising cost of living in her neighborhood. “I’ve been living here for 18 years, and there are now so many new buildings going up in this neighborhood. They are supposed to be affordable housing units, but you really need to work a couple of jobs in order to afford to live there,” she said. “Between the rent, the light, the gas, clothes for my family, and transit fare, there’s not much left for food and fresh vegetables.”

“In a city that has so much, no New Yorker should go hungry, especially when full-time jobs aren’t translating into wages that cover basic expenses like housing, child care and food,” said Jilly Stephens, CEO of City Harvest. “City Harvest relies on research from the Self-Sufficiency Standard Report to understand the realities the people we’re serving are facing. It also helps us develop potential solutions to not only get them nutritious food, but also work toward a food-secure future for all New Yorkers.”

“If we want New Yorkers to step out from the shadows of poverty and constant financial stress, we need to understand how much money they need to live decent lives. And this changes, borough by borough, family by family,” says Patricia Swann, senior program officer at The New York Community Trust. “That’s why we invest in the Self-Sufficiency Report: so nonprofits, government, and employers can work together to provide opportunity and services to struggling New Yorkers.”

There is encouraging news, however, in city and state efforts. Toward that end, New York City, together with the state, has made several strides to bridge the deep economic divide including its vow to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2019, expand free preschool services to three-year-olds, reduce MTA transit fares and provide family leave to workers. As a community, and as one of the greatest and most progressive cities in the world, we must join together to solve some of these critical challenges facing our community and continue to set the standard.

Click here to read the full report.

For more information, please contact: Lesleigh Irish-Underwood at LIrish-underwood@uwnyc.org.