Today’s Misunderstanding About Poverty In New York City


Harper’s has up a piece complaining about how Manhattan, and by extension New York City, just isn’t the same as it was when the writer were a lad. Well, yes, this is probably quite true and all of us feel this way as the infelicities of excessive maturity kick in.

However, it really would help if there were just a little more knowledge about poverty. You know, it being one of those offsetting comforts of excessive maturity that both knowledge and wisdom increase as knees creak, body parts lie limp.

This section being notably problematic:

The average New Yorker now works harder than ever, for less and less. Poverty in the city has lessened somewhat in the past few years, but in 2016 the official poverty rate was still 19.5 percent, or nearly one in every five New Yorkers. When the “near poverty” rate—those making up to $47,634 a year for a family of four—is thrown in, it means that almost half the city is living what has become a marginal existence, just one paycheck away from disaster.

That “near poverty” rate is, roughly enough, defined as twice the federal poverty line. And, as it happens, the federal poverty line is around and about 50% of median income. Our writer has therefore just discovered that some 50% of the city is living, roughly enough, below median income. Only in Lake Wobegon would this differ perhaps?

The immediate cause of the increase in poverty doesn’t require much investigation. The landlords are killing the town. Long ago, the idea that “rent is too damn high” in New York was so thoroughly inculcated into the city’s consciousness that it became a one-man political party and a Saturday Night Live sketch. But the rent is too damn high, and getting higher all the time.

Well, no, not really. Because neither that federal poverty line nor the near poverty definition are calculated with any reference to rent. Rents could double from where they are and the definition of poverty and who is in or near it would not change by one whit. Rents could fall, magically, to $1 a year for all and the number defined as being in poverty would be changed by not one iota of a fraction of a digit.

So, our man is less than informed concerning what he wishes to rant about. So, so, Harper’s, eh?