Contact: Kim Brockway For immediate release

(212) 854-2419 March 2, 1999



Columbia Study Documents Vast Gap

Between Rich and Poor in New York City

A Third Lack Any Funds; Families With Children In Worst Straits


Borrowing from Charles Dickens, Columbia University researchers say that for New Yorkers, „it is the best of times and the worst of times.š

Safer streets and a strong economy are making the city, for many, a great place to live and to visit. But New York is a city of great inequality, not only in income, but in other dimensions of economic and social well-being. While 35 percent of New Yorkers think that the city has become „a better place to liveš in recent years, another 30 percent think it has gotten worse.

„A Tale of Many Citiesš ų the inaugural report of Columbia University‚s Social Indicators Survey ų describes the well-being of New Yorkers in terms of their human (health, education, etc.) and financial assets, their economic conditions and their living conditions, and their experience with the city and its institutions. The findings show a vast distance between groups in the city and extreme levels of disadvantage, particularly among families with children.

The researchers also find surprising differences among ethnic groups and among the city‚s five boroughs, along with inspiring news about the progress of immigrant children.

The authors of the report are Irwin Garfinkel and Marcia K. Meyers, professors at Columbia‚s School of Social Work. They randomly surveyed more than 1,500 families of various economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds in all five boroughs. More than one-third of the adults interviewed were born outside the United States, in nearly 100 different countries. The respondents were surveyed at the end of 1997, and the researchers plan to conduct the survey annually to assess changes over the coming years.

The study measures how individuals and families are faring in terms of their human, financial and social assets, their economic and other living conditions, and their satisfaction with various forms of external support and the city. „This is a unique effort to take the social temperature of the city,š Garfinkel said. „No other data source measures so many domains of well-being in such depth for all New Yorkers.š

The outlook for those New Yorkers who are poor in both financial and human assets is most troubling to the authors. „For many poor New Yorkers who enjoy good health and high levels of education, it can be possible to overcome temporary financial constraints,š Meyers commented. „The outlook is much worse for those who are desperately poor in terms of both financial and human assets.š

Some key findings include:

-- 5% of New Yorkers have incomes at least 10 times the poverty line, about the same as the nation as a whole. But 29% of the city‚s residents live in poverty (nearly twice the national rate) and 44% have zero financial assets (in contrast to 12% of U.S. residents).

-- Nearly one-third of the adults surveyed had only a high school education. 30% had not completed high school - much higher than the national rate of 19%.

-- Over a third of Bronx families are poor -- well above the national average -- while in Manhattan, the proportion of families with very high incomes is nearly three times the national average.

-- About three-quarters of residents in Staten Island and Manhattan rate police protection as good, in contrast to barely one-half of those in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

-- On virtually every indicator, white New Yorkers are the most advantaged New Yorkers, reporting higher incomes and better living conditions, and rating the city and its institutions more highly.

-- By many measures, Hispanic families appear to be poorer and more disadvantaged than those headed by Non-Hispanic black adults. But Hispanic respondents are more likely to think the city is becoming a better place to live and to give high marks to the city‚s police and schools.

-- On many measures of economic and social well-being, immigrants are faring much worse than families headed by a U.S.-born adult. The brightest news concerns their children: across white, black and Hispanic families, immigrant parents are less likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to report that their children are behind in school or have behavior adjustment problems.

-- Over half of young adults with children are poor, compared to just over one-third of young adults without children.

-- Young families with children are among the most distressed New Yorkers: most likely to suffer from overcrowded and substandard housing, to experience hunger and problems paying utility bills, and to live in neighborhoods they rate as unsafe.

-- Hunger is reported more than twice as often by families in New York than by those in the U.S. as a whole.

-- The odds that the poorest New Yorkers live in over-crowded housing are more than six times those of more affluent city residents; their odds of having no one to turn to for an emergency loan are over 10 times greater.

-- Children in poor families are much more likely to be in poor health or disabled than those in affluent families. The gap between rich and poor children increases as they age, so that by adolescence the odds that a poor child is in bad health are nearly twice as high, and the odds that he or she is disabled are more than double those of a more affluent child.

-- While 84% of New York City parents report that their children are at grade level, the odds of being behind a grade or in special education are over six times greater for poor children than for affluent children.


„The fact that some New Yorkers are doing much better than others comes as no surprise,š Garfinkel said. „But we are amazed at the magnitude of the distance between the most and least disadvantaged residents of the city. And the concentration of disadvantage among those families with the most to lose ų young parents and their children ų should be a source of concern for all New Yorkers.š

The New York City Social Indicators Survey Center is a new initiative of the School of Social Work. It is designed to serve the teaching, research and service functions of the University by (1) providing a core teaching resource; (2) providing a unique data source for studying the city; and (3) improving knowledge about social needs and services for use by social service administrators, planners, government officials and policymakers.

Irwin Garfinkel, the Mitchell I. Ginsberg Professor of Contemporary Urban Problems, is founder and chair of the Center. Marcia K. Meyers, assistant professor of Social Work and Public Affairs, serves as the associate director.

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