The Truth Commission process was focused on gathering first-hand, qualitative testimony about the experiences of New Yorkers in the Southern Tier, Capital Region and Long Island. Below is a collection of quantitative indicators on income, employment, housing, inequality, wealth, and incarceration in New York State, which help to put this testimony in a broader context.
Poverty and the ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) Threshold
The federal poverty rate is often the statistic cited when policymakers, advocates and service providers talk about poverty and the poor. In 2017 the federal poverty rate is $12,060 a year for an individual and $24,600 for a family of 4. The testimony shared with the commission illustrates the inadequacy of the federal poverty rate in capturing the extent of poverty. While over 3 million New Yorkers fall below the federal poverty level, millions more live above that line and still face significant hardship.
The United Way has developed another metric that shows the gap between the poverty line and self-sufficiency. The ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) Threshold is based on a "Household Survival Budget" - a conservative estimate of what it costs in a given region for housing, childcare, food, transportation, health care and taxes. In November 2016, the United Way of New York released a report on New York State, giving a comprehensive view of households who earn less than the cost of necessities in their area. The full report is available here.
Lack of access to jobs with sufficient wages was a common theme in the testimony at all three events. Recent news reports have highlighted New York's falling unemployment rate, but many working New Yorkers are in jobs with wages that keep them in poverty or below the ALICE threshold. Women and Black and Latinx New Yorkers earn significantly less than white men. In addition, the unemployment rate is much higher among New Yorkers of color.
Labor market participation and unemployment
In New York, the labor participation rate– the proportion of working-age individuals who are in the labor force– was 60% in 2016, the lowest since 1984. (NYS Department of Labor)
In 2016, the New York unemployment rate was 4.8%, down from a post-recession high of 8.7% in 2012. (NYS Department of Labor). However, when including discouraged workers (those who have given up looking for work) and those who are working part-time for economic reasons, the rate was significantly higher at 9.4%. (Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization for States, 2016 Annual Averages, Bureau of Labor Statistics)
In New York, 55% of jobs pay less than $20 per hour, with more than half of those paying between $10 and $15 per hour (ALICE Report, page 1).
A living wage for a 1 adult, 1 child household in 2017 was $27.16 (New York State Annual Poverty Report).
Women and people of color earn significantly less than their white male counterparts:
Lack of affordable, quality housing was another frequent issue raised in testimony. Several people had experienced periods of homelessness, and many others were living in overcrowded or substandard housing.
- In 2016, there were 86,352 homeless New Yorkers, or 0.44 percent of the population. New York has the third highest rate of homelessness, behind the District of Columbia (1.23 percent) and Hawaii (0.55 percent). (The State of the Nation's Housing Report, 2017)
Households paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing are considered burdened by housing costs. Close to half of households fall into this category in every major New York metropolitan area.
- Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is least expensive in Allegany, Chautauqua, and Chenango counties at $637 per month. Two-bedroom apartments in Nassau and Suffolk counties are most expensive, at $1,613 per month (ALICE Report, pg. 41).
In New York State, poverty and hardship exist alongside great wealth. In both testimony and commissioner reflections, this contradiction was emphasized.
According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, almost half (48 percent) of increases in income in New York post-recession (2009-2015) went to the top 1 percent of earners (Fiscal Policy Institute, 2018 Executive Budget Briefing, pg. 18).
As in the nation generally, inequality in New York is increasing. The top 1 percent's share of income grew from 12 percent in 1980 to 32.4% in 2015.
In 2013, the average income of the top 1% in New York State was $2,006,632 and the average income of the bottom 99% was $44,163.
At each of the Truth Commission events, people shared stories of being unable to access needed healthcare or being at risk of losing needed healthcare.
In 2014, the average health care cost in New York was $141 per month for a single adult and $564 per month for a family, not including health insurance, which represents an increase of 56 percent from 2007 to 2014. (ALICE Report, 2014).
In 2016, 7.2 percent of New Yorkers age 18-64 had no health insurance (Centers for Disease Control).
Underinsurance is difficult to measure and refers to individuals and families who, despite paying for health insurance, forego care due to out-of-pocket costs. In 2017, the least expensive Bronze family plan on the New York State of Health insurance exchange cost $12,563 annually with an $8000 deductible and 50% coinsurance after deductible for ambulance, urgent care, imaging & diagnostic tests, outpatient visits, and chemotherapy.
In a 2016 New York Times and Kaiser Family Foundation poll, roughly 20 percent of people under age 65 with health insurance reported having problems paying their medical bills. Among those, 63 percent said they used up all or most of their savings; 42 percent took on an extra job or more work hours; 14 percent moved or took in roommates; and 11 percent turned to charity.
A number of those testifying had been incarcerated or had family members incarcerated and shared about the difficulty of accessing housing, employment and education with a criminal record.
Incarceration rates in New York State (The Sentencing Project, 2015)
- New York's incarceration rate (260/100K) is 41st in the country, lower than the national rate of 458/100K. However, New York has the fourth highest disparity between Hispanic/White incarceration rates and the 12th highest disparity between Black/White incarceration rates in the nation.
- Total Incarcerated, prison and jail - 78,556
- Prison population 51,606
Rate (per 100,000) 260
- Jail population 26,950
Rate (per 100,000) 170
- Probation population 100,996
- Parole population 44,562
- Prison population 51,606
- Imprisonment by Race/Ethnicity
- White imprisonment rate (per 100,000) 112
- Black imprisonment rate (per 100,000) 896
Black:white ratio = 8.0
Hispanic Imprisonment rate (per 100,000) 351
Hispanic:white ratio = 3.1
- Corrections Expenditures (2015) - $3,140,000,000
Length of Incarceration (Department of Corrections and Community Supervision “Under Custody” Report, page 21)
- 26% of prisoners have spent six years or more under custody.
- 32% of prisoners have spent less than one year under custody.
- Almost 17% of prisoners have spent 10 or more years incarcerated.
- The median length of time of incarceration was 25 months.
Solitary Confinement in NYS Prisons (Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Current Fact Sheet, page 4)
- Special Housing Unit (SHU) prisoners (alone or with one other person, 22-24 hours per day) - 2,886 (9/1/2017)
- Additionally, advocates estimate the number of prisoners in ‘keeplock’, another form of solitary, to be approximately 1000.
- These numbers do not include county jails. Conservative estimates of use of solitary in county jails is approximately 1000.
County Jail Unsentenced Population (Department of Criminal Justice Services, Jail Population in New York State, pages 1-3, 8/2017)
- Prisoner Population of All Jail Facilities - 24,609
- Unsentenced 16,491
- Percentage Unsentenced 67%
- Prisoner Population of NYC Jail Facilities - 9,113
- Unsentenced 6,988
- Percentage Unsentenced 76%
- Prisoner Population of All Non-NYC Jail Facilities - 15,497
- Unsentenced 9,503
- Percentage Unsentenced 61%