Sandy’s Long-term Consequences for Impoverished New Yorkers

November 15, 2014 @ 12:19 am

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York City on October 29, 2012, was one of the worst weather-related disasters to affect New York City in decades, wreaking havoc on many of the city's residents and their communities.

And, as is now well known, the storm had a disproportionate impact on historically marginalized communities including people of color and the working poor. Some were stranded in homes without power; others lost vehicles, belongings, or even their homes to catastrophic damage; and still others were injured or even lost their lives. And many lost pay or even their jobs altogether, taking a direct hit to the pocketbook.

But while the extent of Hurricane Sandy’s immediate impact has been fairly well documented, what do we know about the hurricane's worst-hit victims a year later? Have they been able to recoup their losses with the help of recovery aid, or are they still in dire straits?

In a new research report, a team of researchers at Columbia University’s School of Social Work find that New Yorkers who were hit hardest by the storm continued to suffer its after-effects at least one year after the storm had passed, exhibiting increased levels of material hardship along with the inability to meet their routine daily living expenses. These hardships range from an elevated risk of having utilities cut off to not being able to afford medical treatment.

The researchers, Christopher Wimer and Ethan Raker, used data from the Robin Hood Foundation-funded Poverty Tracker to study the city’s Sandy-affected populations over time. The Poverty Tracker was launched in late 2012, just after Hurricane Sandy hit New York. It provides a unique opportunity to track the long-term well-being of New Yorkers negatively impacted by the storm.

“We know that disadvantaged New Yorkers were disproportionately hurt by Hurricane Sandy,” said Dr. Irwin Garfinkel, the principal investigator on the Robin Hood Study, “but the Poverty Tracker was able to give us very clear data on how Sandy-affected New Yorkers are still suffering long after the storm has passed.”

For more details on the Sandy-related findings, go to Columbia Population Center Research Working Paper No. 14-03.

* * *

The Poverty Tracker study follows a representative sample of approximately 2,000 New York City residents over a two-year period, with interviews conducted every three months. The primary focus of the study is to understand the dynamics of poverty and hardship among New York City families. The initial survey, fielded between December 2012 and March 2013, collected detailed information on income, material hardships, and family health and well-being. Survey respondents were then enrolled in a panel to be followed over time, with periodic survey modules at 3-month intervals covering topics like assets and debt, neighborhoods and program service utilization, and adult and child health.

Every 3-month follow-up contains basic questions on various experiences that families may have experienced in between waves, including moves into and out of the household, gains and losses of jobs, unexpected major expenses, and large gains or losses in income.

With this rich information in hand, CPRC and the Robin Hood Foundation seek to understand how New Yorkers are faring over time. A second panel is planned to begin in 2015.

For more information on the Poverty Tracker, go to