New York City was long known as America’s welfare capital, with a large dependent poor population and extensive services for them. But one doesn’t hear much about that anymore. New York State has also had the highest Medicaid spending in the United States, but one doesn’t hear much about that anymore either. The data shows New York still spends more on aid to the needy than most other states, as a share of its residents’ personal income, but the gap between New York and the rest of the country closed between FY 2004 and FY 2014. As the gap closed, aid from the federal government to New York shifted to other places. Today, moreover, most of this “social” spending is on health care, and thus on older people, not on those with lower incomes. A discussion of these trends, with tables and charts, follows.
The 1970s were a devastating decade for New York City. The middle class and employers fled, leaving the old, poor, unemployed and troubled behind. The city lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and nearly a million people. Today, however, the population has soared. Cranes dot the skyline as tens of thousands of housing units are under construction to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people trying to more here. Total private employment, for which the 1969 peak was a seemingly insurmountable barrier for decades, has soared past that level to previously unimaginable heights. Self-employment has soared even more. And with suburban housing increasingly occupied by retired empty nesters rather than young workers, more of those jobs are held by city residents, and the city’s employment-population ratio is at an all time high. The only problem, it seems, is that real estate values are soaring as a result of gentrification, and the poor are being pushed out of the city.
To find out to what extent, I took a spreadsheet I had produced years ago, with decennial Census of Population data on poverty in 1969, 1979, and 1989, and added 2014 American Community Survey data to it. And then compared data for 1979, near the city’s low ebb, with data for 2014, the most recent year available. I found that the number of non-poor people (for whom poverty status could be determined) had increased by over 1 million (18.6%) over 35 years. And the number of poor people, rather than decreasing or staying the same, has increased by more than 350,000 or 25.5%. An even faster gain. Are you surprised? I am.