New York's City's resurgence over the past three decades has been characterized by greater fiscal stability, less crime, less dependence on cash welfare, and sustained economic growth. Although income has increased broadly, the gains have been proportionately greater for the most affluent households. This rise of income inequality has prompted newly elected mayor Bill de Blasio to characterize New York as a “tale of two cities'—and to pledge to improve incomes and quality of life for the least well-off.
This study establishes a baseline against which future progress may be measured. It presents a quantitative profile, at the neighborhood level, of the low-income New York that Mayor de Blasio inherited. It inaugurates a new Manhattan Institute series that will chart the progress of poor New York neighborhoods over the coming years. How have the poorest neighborhoods in the five boroughs fared over recent decades? Have conditions improved, declined, or remained the same?
The neighborhoods examined in this report are: Mott Haven and Hunts Point in the South Bronx (Bronx Community Districts 1 and 2); Brownsville, Coney Island, and East New York in Brooklyn (Brooklyn Community Districts 16, 13, and 5); East Harlem and Central Harlem in Manhattan (Manhattan Community Districts 11 and 10); Elmhurst and Jackson Heights in Queens (Queens Community Districts 4 and 3); and Stapleton on Staten Island (Staten Island Community District 1). These are the poorest neighborhoods in their respective boroughs, in terms of median household income.
Conditions in these neighborhoods will be measured using several metrics: “against themselves,” to chart their progress over recent decades; and against wealthy neighborhoods, as well as the city as a whole.
- Population trends are healthy in New York’s poorest neighborhoods. After catastrophic losses during the 1970s, several neighborhoods have seen double-digit population increases during recent decades, often outpacing the growth rate for the city as a whole.
- The most unequivocal improvement in conditions in New York’s poorest neighborhoods has been the crime decline. In seven of ten neighborhoods surveyed, serious crimes declined by at least 70 percent between 1990 and 2013, with murders down by the same margin in nine.
- Citywide, the poverty rate has not changed significantly since 1980 (21.2 percent now versus 20 percent then). Among the poorest neighborhoods in the five boroughs, some have registered a drop in their poverty rate since 1980 (East New York and Central Harlem are down by more than 10 percentage points). Others from the same cohort have seen their poverty rate climb (Jackson Heights and Elmhurst in Queens, both up by over 8 percentage points).
- The record is similarly mixed for neighborhood-level changes in real median household income. Some poor neighborhoods have seen strong gains, and a few have experienced decline. It has been gentrifying neighborhoods, in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, which have experienced the highest growth rate in median household income since 1980.
- In nine of the ten poorest neighborhoods in the five boroughs, median gross rent has outpaced median household income since 1980.
- Poor neighborhoods continue to show high rates of welfare dependence, although the kind of dependence has changed. A smaller share of the population now receives cash assistance than in 1980, but in nine of the ten neighborhoods, at least 40 percent of residents are on Medicaid—and in seven, at least a third of the population receive food stamps.
- Family structure has been unstable in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods for decades. The same six community districts (Mott Haven and Hunts Point in the Bronx; East Harlem and Central Harlem in Manhattan; Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn) that had 50 percent, or more, of families headed by a single mother in 1980 continued to do so in 2012.
- Some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods have made substantial progress in rates of educational attainment. Whereas seven had single-digit rates of adults with a college degree in 1980, only the South Bronx still has not yet reached 10 percent.