Most New Yorkers would agree that poverty and inequality are bad, and the data confirms that both are far above average in New York City. Advocates for the poor report this constantly. Their solution: more money for their organizations, and more places for the poor to live.
As I wrote here, poverty and inequality may be explained by economic and social conditions and public policy at the national level. At the local level, however, the level of poverty is primarily a product of migration: who moves in (or is kept out), who moves out (or is pushed out), who is born and who dies off. Local changes in the poverty rate may have nothing to do with whether individuals are getting richer or poorer whatsoever. Even if the city succeeded in helping every poor person within its borders to advance out of poverty, its poverty rate would not go down if those formerly poor people moved out and were replaced by new poor people seeking to move up. When people advocate for more low-income housing in New York City, they are advocating for the opportunity for more low-income people to live here, and thus a higher poverty rate. Places with low poverty rates are generally affluent suburban jurisdictions that seek to exclude the poor, through zoning rules that keep the price of housing high (more on that in future essays). Thus, the city’s high poverty rate is an inevitable by product of its accessibility to the poor, something that is in other ways desirable.