A Place on the Pavement: The Economic Crisis and it’s Effect on Poverty in NYC

NYC resident sleeping on the sidewalk.

NYC resident sleeping on the sidewalk.

Poverty rates have been climbing since the recession began in 2008, and now in New York City, 21 percent represents the population living in poverty. The increase, due to the recession, has caused safety net measures (i.e.: shelters, food bank) to work harder than ever before.

To be considered impoverished one must lie below the “absolute poverty line”, which is defined as the threshold below which families or individuals are considered to be lacking the resources’ needed to meet basic needs. Poverty is not a new idea, in fact its’ been around for decades. In 1964 president Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty” making it a national concern. There are a number of things that keep poverty alive today, one of the more recognized forces being the lack of job opportunity. This greatly affects metropolitan areas such as NYC given its high volume of residents. Upon the release of the recent census, the Robin Hood Foundation, an organization whose specific focus is fighting poverty in NYC, shared a picture on Facebook of the NYC skyline, the skyline of one of the richest cities in the world, with this dismal fact staring at us.

21% living in Poverty

21% living in Poverty

And a dismal fact it truly is, with equally dismal casualties that most wont think of when just reading it. Poverty has many components, all which play off one another, for example, food and shelter. Without a job, it is easy to imagine that paying for shelter and food might become difficult (especially when its not always easy with a job). Whether it is choosing food over housing, or not having the decision to make at all; survival is not easy for someone living in poverty. This is where safety net programs, like NGO’s, come into play; and there are many of them in New York City with a focus on one, or multiple aspects of poverty that making a difference in countless lives every day.

Food insecurity, as mentioned above, is a component of what makes up poverty. It can be defined as “the USDAs measure of the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members; limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods” (City Harvest) In New York City, 1 in 6 people rely on emergency food; that is 1.4 million people. These people turn to the food bank, food panties, soup kitchens, or food stamps to get by. These programs are vital, and since the recession programs like the food bank and the food pantries specifically have had to work harder to keep up with the influx of people in need of their services.

The Robin Hood Foundation brings this issue to life though a brief video showing a Mother struggling to feed herself and her daughter in New York City:

As the woman in the video mentioned, the struggle to balance the bills for both shelter and food is real. She chose to seek help with food supplies at the food bank, but others need to turn to shelters for survival. In New York City specifically, the increase in the homeless population forced them to open nine new shelters in just two months over the summer of 2012. The current shelter census is the highest ever. “The city recorded 43,731 homeless people (25,475 adults and 18,256 children) in the shelter system this week, up 18 percent from the 37,143 (21,807 adults and 15,336 children) a year ago, officials said” (Edwards). And this doesn’t even account for those who still find their place on the pavement every night, who have chosen avoid the shelter service all together.

The significant increase in the poverty rate is due to the recession and lack of jobs. Poverty has been a national issue for over 50 years, yet the principles of it have remained the same. We live in an ever-changing world, but poverty, and its cause, has remained constant throughout the many changes the world and its inhabitants have gone through. How have we not solved this problem yet? It is 2012 and we have accomplished so much, it is truly amazing; we have the Internet, Facebook, smartphones, YouTube and Skype… yet we have citizens who sleep on the streets, or struggle to find a meal? We don’t have everyone out of poverty yet?

Countless American citizens are out of jobs, it’s not just New York City, and with no real plan to get the old economy back and running, we wait and watch the poverty rate continue to rise as government officials (hopefully) make plans to save the job market. During this interim period, the shelters, the food bank, and numerous safety net programs in New York City and across the United States are working to keep those living in poverty alive and ready for change.


City Harvest: Food Insecurity : City Harvest

Robin Hood Foundation : Robin Hood

Food Bank: Food Poverty in NYC : Food Bank NYC

N.Y.C Homeless Shelters in Record Demand : New York Times


Man Sleeping on Sidewalk: Photopoly

21% living in Poverty: Facebook


Robin Hood Responds – Feed : YouTube

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