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New York Daily News


It's Not Inequality -- Poverty Is The Point

June 06, 2014

By Stephen Eide

The question is if the Mayor can deliver for poor neighborhoods

Mayor Bill de Blasio is still in his honeymoon, having kept “the tale of two cities,” his campaign's north star, at the forefront of policy debates in New York City. Still, his administration will finally be judged less by its success in controlling the narrative than by how much it improves the lives of poor New Yorkers.

Closely examining neighborhood conditions reveals the limited relevance of the income inequality debate to the lives of New Yorkers. No one's saying it hasn't been a great run for the Upper East Side, but that didn't hinder the crime decline in Brownsville.

Monitoring social and economic conditions in the city's poorest neighborhoods — which the Manhattan Institute will do over the next four years — is the best way to benchmark de Blasio. Focusing on neighborhoods, and measures that show whether they are improving or declining, provides a more nuanced and tangible means for evaluating policy outcomes than rhetoric about inequality.

The first step is to establish a baseline for future results by looking at the records of past administrations. In my new report “Poverty and Progress in New York,” I found the recent histories of the poorest neighborhoods in each borough have been more complex than de Blasio's narrative would have it.

In the conditions city government is responsible for, such as crime, poor neighborhoods shared substantially in New York City's comeback over recent decades.

The record is more mixed when it comes to Income levels and other changes that mayors have a more limited ability to affect.

In seven of the ten neighborhoods I surveyed, serious crimes declined by at least 70% between 1990 and 2013, and murders were down by the same margin in nine.

The crime decline has led to positive population trends. All ten neighborhoods now boast more residents than they did in 1980. Growth is both an effect of urban success, and a cause, inoculating areas from the many problems related to vacancy and blight that once featured prominently in media coverage of the South Bronx and now of Detroit.

In terms of welfare reform, another signature policy initiative of recent administrations, the most striking change is the form of dependency. Across nearly all poor neighborhoods, the rate of dependence on Medicaid and Food Stamps is up while dependence on cash assistance is down.

Contrary to the predictions of many critics, reduced access to cash assistance welfare has not caused poverty to spike. Citywide, the poverty rate has hovered around 20% since 1980. Some neighborhoods had the opposite experience: East New York's poverty rate declined by 12 percentage points even as the share of its population receiving cash assistance dropped by 28 points.

But, generally speaking, measures of economic health in poor neighborhoods don't admit of clear trends. Coney Island's median household income declined by almost 30%, adjusted for inflation, since 1980. But Central and East Harlem and East New York, saw income growth that significantly outpaced that of the city as a whole.

Another advantage of focusing on neighborhood level data is that many policies, such as housing, are neighborhood-specific. While some housing advocates keenly desire Mayor de Blasio to force greater economic integration through his ambitious housing push, trends in income and rent suggest that it may be the poorest neighborhoods, not the gentrifying areas where developers are most eager to build, that are most in need of new housing stock. In nine out of the ten neighborhoods, median gross rent rose more than median household income since 1980.

With a baseline established, we'll see what de Blasio can do to change that dynamic.

As eager as he has been to repudiate his predecessors, this mayor's legacy will be determined by how well he succeeds at continuing their effective delivery of city services to the neighborhoods he's vowed to uplift.

Original Source:



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