The rich got richer and the poor got poorer in New York City last year as the poverty rate reached its highest point in more than a decade, and the income gap in Manhattan, already wider than almost anywhere else in the country, rivaled disparities in sub-Saharan Africa.
While the national recession officially ended in 2009 and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has repeatedly proclaimed the city’s robust recovery, the census figures released on Thursday painted a decidedly sober view of how New Yorkers are faring.
“To see the poverty rate jump almost a full percentage point is not a good sign,” said David R. Jones, the president of the Community Service Society of New York, an antipoverty advocacy and research group. “We’re still seeing really high rates of unemployment, while jobs have been growing in an anemic way and the jobs that have been created are really low-wage.”
While Mr. Bloomberg has made reducing the poverty rate, now nearly 21 percent, a priority, administration officials acknowledged that the stagnant national economy had hurt the city.
“These poverty numbers reflect a national challenge: the U.S. economy has shifted and too many people are getting left behind without the skills they need to compete and succeed,” Samantha Levine, the mayor’s deputy press secretary, said on Wednesday. “As President Clinton recently said, ‘The old economy is not coming back,’ and that’s why the mayor believes we need a new national approach to job creation and education, one that gives everyone a chance to rise up the economic ladder.”
Median household income in the city last year was $49,461, just below the national median and down $821 from the year before (compared with a national decline of $642). Median earnings for workers fell sharply to $32,210 from $33,287 — much more than the national decline.)
New Yorkers at the bottom end of the income spectrum lost ground, while those at the top gained.
Median income for the lowest fifth was $8,844, down $463 from 2010. For the highest, it was $223,285, up $1,919.
In Manhattan, the disparity was even starker. The lowest fifth made $9,681, while the highest took home $391,022. The wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites made more than 40 times what the lowest fifth reported, a widening gap (it was 38 times, the year before) surpassed by only a few developing countries, including Namibia and Sierra Leone.
Only one other county in the nation, Clarke County, Ga., where nearly a third of the 117,000 residents are college students, reported a higher income gap.
Except for a decline in the poverty rate among children under 5, virtually every indicator was grim and suggested growing inequality. Poverty rates rose most among Hispanic people, New Yorkers over age 65, married couples, residents of Manhattan and Queens, and those without a high school diploma. The citywide increase to 20.9 percent from 20.1 percent was slightly higher than the national increase, but still left the rate in New York below that of many other big cities.
Nearly 1.7 million city residents were officially classified as poor, or with an income of less than $18,530 for a family of three. Some 750,000 were subsisting on less than half the poverty level. The proportion receiving food stamps increased to 20.6 percent from 19.3. Among poor New Yorkers 16 and older, a third had worked full or part time within the preceding year.
“The statistics demonstrate quite clearly that our most vulnerable neighbors are far from a recovery,” said Jilly Stephens, executive director of City Harvest, which helps get emergency food to hungry New Yorkers.