homeless man on 7th Avenue Data released today from a survey conducted by the Columbia Population Research Center (CPRC), which is housed within the School of Social Work, reveal that poverty and hardship are worse for New York City residents than official measures indicate.

This data represent the first wave of results from the Poverty Tracker, a joint venture between CPRC and Robin Hood, New York City’s largest poverty-fighting organization.

According to the newly released findings, nearly four in ten New Yorkers (37%) suffered one or more severe material hardships during 2012, meaning they faced a persistent shortage of critical resources or underwent an episode of acute deprivation (such as staying in a shelter, moving in with others, or being unable to afford utilities, medical care, or food).

While official census figures show that 21 percent of City residents live in poverty, the survey reveals that poverty, when measured in this way, is higher at about 23 percent. While the increase may not sound dramatic, it equates to an approximate 170,000 additional New Yorkers living in poverty.

In total, 53 percent of New Yorkers, or approximately 4 million people, are struggling on a regular basis, having experienced at least one of the following: poverty, severe material hardship, or a work-limiting health issue.

The Poverty Tracker is a quarterly survey of 2,300 households throughout the five boroughs and across all income levels. It has been designed to take a deeper, more realistic look at disadvantage among New Yorkers.

The survey aims to capture rich details on household expenditures, income and government supports; it collects information about material hardships and family/child well-being that other surveys overlook. Another novel feature of The Poverty Tracker is that it captures the dynamics of poverty: how low-income residents respond to difficult circumstances over time.

“Robin Hood’s mission is to fight poverty in New York City, and to do so effectively requires an accurate picture of how New Yorkers are faring day-to-day,” said Michael Weinstein, Chief Program Officer of Robin Hood. “Our hope is that the Poverty Tracker will become an effective tool in the fight against poverty, and be used as a resource by both private and public funders to design more effective programs to help New Yorkers in need.”

“Tracking incomes over time is important,” said Christopher Wimer, Project Director for the Poverty Tracker study at CPRC, “but it’s not the whole story. Many policies and programs make a difference for low-income families without directly improving their incomes.  With our more comprehensive measures of disadvantage we will be able to see what’s really happening to New Yorkers over time—something that up until now hasn’t been possible in New York City.”

CSSW faculty members Irwin Garfinkel, Jane Waldfogel, and Julien Teitler are also centrally involved in the study.

The Poverty Tracker surveyed 2,300 households across the five boroughs beginning in December 2012 and March 2013, and included residents from all income brackets; surveys have continued on a quarterly basis and will continue for two years. After two years, a new panel of households will be recruited and quarterly surveys will start anew. Subsequent surveys will gather more detailed information on the health and well-being of respondents and their children, setbacks or improvements to their home and family lives, changes to their assets and debts, and their experiences with New York City’s government and social services.

To see the full Poverty Tracker report, go to povertytracker.robinhood.org

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Image: Street life across from Penn Station, 25 May 2012, by Elvert Barnes (CC).

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