Feb 14, 2023 Press Release

Annual Robin Hood Poverty Tracker Report Finds Pandemic-Era Government Policies Cut NYC’s Child Poverty Rate by 68%

During the pandemic, government policies, including the expanded Federal Child Tax Credit, brought New York City’s child poverty rate to a historic low of 15 percent — keeping more than 500,000 children above the poverty line in 2021 Report uses New York data to demonstrate that government policy can permanently reduce child poverty, if policymakers act

NEW YORK, NY – February 14, 2023 – Today, Robin Hood, in collaboration with Columbia University, released its fifth Poverty Tracker Annual Report, which assesses rates of income poverty, material hardship and economic disadvantage in New York City in 2021. The report was presented at an in-person child poverty symposium of policy experts, government officials, and non-profit leaders earlier this week. This year’s Poverty Tracker includes a spotlight on temporary pandemic relief programs that dramatically — but only briefly — brought child poverty in New York City to historic lows. The reduction in poverty rates highlighted in the report shows that government policy can be an effective poverty-fighting tool, sparing hundreds of thousands of New York families from experiencing both income poverty and material hardship.

One of the report’s key findings is that the federal Child Tax Credit alone — which was expanded during the pandemic with an increased value, delivered in monthly installments and made available to the lowest-earning families for the first time in the policy’s history — reduced New York City’s child poverty rate by more than 30 percent in 2021. As a result, 120,000 New York City children were prevented from falling into poverty. All government tax credits and transfers combined reduced the child poverty rate by 68 percent, keeping more than half a million New York City children out of poverty and bringing the city’s child poverty rate to a historic low of 15 percent, the lowest rate since the Poverty Tracker began measuring child poverty in 2017.

“We know what works to reduce child poverty, we just need the political will to get it done. This year’s Poverty Tracker report provides hard evidence of our core belief that government policy is one of the most effective poverty-fighting tools. Amid a global health and economic crisis, federal policymakers designed initiatives that kept half a million children in New York City out of poverty–but many of those policies have since expired,” said Robin Hood CEO Richard R. Buery, Jr. “The fact is that child poverty is an ongoing crisis, and we need our leaders in Washington, Albany and City Hall to step up with permanent solutions.”

Additional findings from the Poverty Tracker spotlight show that:

  • The 2021 Child Tax Credit helped families make ends meet. Among families in poverty, the temporarily expanded Child Tax Credit payments reduced the risk of material hardship by 14%, of multiple hardships by 23%, of financial hardship by 39%, of food hardship by 19%;
  • The monthly Child Tax Credit payments may have also reduced strain on New York City’s emergency food assistance providers. New York City families with children were 21% less likely to visit food pantries in the months that they received the monthly Child Tax Credit payments — those in poverty were 33% less likely to visit food pantries.

“Child poverty has been persistently high in New York City and the country, compromising children’s short- and long-term wellbeing. But the Poverty Tracker data makes clear that thoughtful and ambitious policy design can quickly reduce these stubbornly high rates of child poverty and have an immediate effect on the material hardships endured by children and their families.” Sophie Collyer, Research Director, Center in Poverty and Social Poverty at Columbia University.

During yesterday’s launch event, Deep Dive: Child Poverty and the Path Forward, Robin Hood convened policy experts, programmatic leaders, and donors to discuss ways to reduce child poverty. Panels explored data trends within this year’s report and highlighted positive findings on infant brain development when families receive monthly direct cash payments. The event culminated in a conversation moderated by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof about opportunities for progress at the state and local level and role of the Child Poverty Reduction Act, which mandates a plan to cut child poverty in New York State in half within 10 years.

In December 2021, Congress allowed the federal Child Tax Credit expansion to expire, plunging millions of children and families nationwide into poverty. As soon as January 2022, the number of children across the United States living in poverty rose close to 4 million. In New York City, the rollback of the policy leaves one in three New York children again ineligible for the full payment.

Given the Poverty Tracker’s clear finding that government policy works to combat poverty — and especially child poverty — Robin Hood has reaffirmed its commitment to push lawmakers to work toward permanent solutions. Specific policies Robin Hood will advocate for include reforming New York State’s Empire State Child Tax Credit by extending eligibility to children under 4 and increasing benefit amounts from $330 to $1,000 per child. This is expected to cut the child poverty rate by 16.4 percent and move an additional 112,000 children out of poverty. While these reforms would cost $2.0 billion per year, they would also generate $18.6 billion in benefits to society.

Key findings from the Poverty Tracker report for all New Yorkers include:

  • Income poverty: In 2021, 18% of adult New Yorkers and 15% of children in New York City lived in poverty — the lowest annual child poverty rate observed in the Poverty Tracker data, which began measuring child poverty in 2017. The fact that poverty rates remained stable at 18% between 2019 and 2021 — in the midst of the pandemic and economic turmoil — are a testament to the efficacy of historic, though temporary, policy interventions.
  • Material hardship: Not only those living below the poverty line struggle to make ends meet. Material hardship is even more widespread than poverty, but 2021 also saw a course change. Between 2015 and 2020, roughly one in three adults faced material hardship — in 2021, this fell to one in four. Declines in the share of children in families facing material hardship were even more pronounced, with the rate falling from 36% to 26%.
  • Disparities in hardship: Poverty, material hardship, and health problems are not equally distributed across demographic groups, and policy plays a role in creating and mitigating inequities.
    • In 2021, Latino New Yorkers were twice as likely to live in poverty compared to white New Yorkers (24% vs. 12%), and rates were similarly elevated among Asian and Black New Yorkers (20% and 21%, respectively).
    • Women also experienced higher rates of all forms of disadvantage (poverty, material hardship, or health problems) than men, which may be explained by histories of gender-based income and social inequality.
    • New Yorkers born outside of the U.S. also faced significantly higher rates of poverty and hardship than U.S. born residents, but a lower prevalence of health problems.
    • Differences in the levels of disadvantage among New Yorkers were also present by location, with experiences of all forms of disadvantage being highest in the Bronx.

The New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof moderating a panel of Richard R. Buery, Jr., CEO of Robin Hood; Dia Bryant, Executive Director of Education Trust – New York; Kate Breslin, President and CEO of The Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy; and Sophie Collyer, Research Director, Center on Poverty & Social Policy. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Poverty Tracker surveys a representative sample of the same 4,000 New York households every three months, providing critical information on the dynamics of poverty and other forms of disadvantage in the city over time while tracking data on employment, assets and debts, and health. 

Read the full report here.

About Robin Hood:
This year, Robin Hood celebrates its 35th year of funding, supporting, and connecting New York’s most impactful community organizations at the forefront in the battle against poverty. We’re NYC’s largest local poverty-fighting philanthropy and since 1988, we’ve invested more than $3 billion to elevate and fuel the permanent escape of New Yorkers from poverty. Last year, through grantmaking with 300+ community partners, we created pathways to opportunities out of poverty for more than 325,000 New Yorkers, and through our strategic partnerships on child care, child poverty, jobs, and living wages, we are scaling impact at a population level for the more than 1.4 million New Yorkers living in poverty. At Robin Hood, we believe your starting point in life should not define where you end up. To learn more about our work and impact, follow us on Twitter @RobinHoodNYC or go to www.robinhood.org.

About Columbia Center on Poverty and Social Policy:
The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at the Columbia School of Social Work produces cutting-edge research to advance our understanding of poverty and the role of social policy in reducing poverty and promoting opportunity, economic security, and individual and family-wellbeing. The center’s work focuses on poverty and social policy issues in New York City and the United States. For the latest work, go to povertycenter.columbia.edu.

About Columbia Population Research Center:
The Columbia Population Research Center supports population health researchers across Columbia University, galvanizing new interdisciplinary and cross-campus collaborations, promoting the professional development of junior scientists, and enabling members to do work that is more innovative and impactful. Our members’ interests encompass four primary research areas: Children, Youth, and Families; Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS; Immigration/Migration; and Urbanism, with cross-cutting attention to inequalities and policies to mitigate those inequalities.