Manhattan Got Less Wealthy While The Bronx Got Less Poor in First Year of Pandemic

Kids have a foot race in the South Bronx, July 31, 2020. |
Photo Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

This article was originally published on by THE CITY

The coronavirus rejiggered New York’s economic calculus, at least temporarily, according to a new analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2020 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, or SAIPE, by THE CITY.

The median household income in Manhattan, the richest borough, declined between 2019 and 2020 as wealthier residents fled, even as a torrent of federal assistance dramatically reduced the child poverty rate in The Bronx, the poorest county in New York State.

THE CITY’s analysis also found that, in 2020, Queens became the borough with the smallest share of its population in poverty, at 10.3%, compared to 10.6% in Staten Island and then 16.3% in Manhattan, 17.8% in Brooklyn and 24.4% in The Bronx, which remains the poorest county in New York State.

The child poverty rate in The Bronx was 30.6% in 2020 — a nearly 6 percentage point decline in just one year and the steepest drop in any borough in at least two decades.

As THE CITY previously reported, Manhattan saw a population exodus during the pandemic. That included Max Willens, who grew up in lower Manhattan and spent 15 years living in New York after college before leaving for Philadelphia in November of 2020.

Willens, who is married and has a two-year-old child, said he needed more space for his money — and didn’t have to go far or give up on city life to find it.

“I didn’t want to leave [and] I miss New York,” said Willens, a senior analyst for the market research company Insider Intelligence. “But six months of fitting two adults, an infant and a dog into a one-bedroom apartment” in lower Manhattan in the midst of the pandemic “forced us to look for places with more space, and Philadelphia felt like an opportunity.”

Willens says he’s paying $200 less a month now for a three-bedroom house with a finished basement and a backyard in Philly’s Fishtown.

Manhattan has seen a decrease in children living in the borough, Aug. 2, 2022.
Manhattan has seen a decrease in children living in the borough, Aug. 2, 2022. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

U.S. Census stats indicate that in the early part of the pandemic many New Yorkers left for suburbs and neighboring states including New Jersey and Connecticut and other big cities like Los Angeles and Miami. THE CITY’s analysis of the 2021 population and demographic data, released earlier this year, showed that while an outflow of the population across all racial and ethnic groups, white New Yorkers left the city at a far greater pace than any other group.

A separate analysis of census data by the Economic Innovation Group, a public policy nonprofit, found that white people of working age left cities at a higher rate than any other age group as 68 percent of “large, urban counties” saw a decline in population. That analysis also found that Manhattan’s population of kids 5 years and under decreased by almost 10 percent in the year ending on July 1 of 2021.

’An Opportunity to Refocus‘

Asked about Manhattanites leaving, State Sen. Brad Hoylman, whose district covers much of Lower Manhattan and Midtown, said that many of those people (and especially those who left for Florida) would eventually come back — and that the government’s first obligation in New York was to people with fewer means and greater needs.

“We do certainly need to focus on the families struggling during the pandemic,” Hoylman told THE CITY. “Children may be in low-performing schools, in crowded classrooms, who don’t have access to college prep that, frankly, they have a constitutional right to. So I hope that this is an opportunity to refocus on those most vulnerable kids and families who need help the most.”

While federal aid and policies including an eviction moratorium in New York that expired earlier this year protected those families, helping to account for the plummeting child poverty rate in the Bronx, those gains may not endure after the aid is done.

“It’s safe to assume that some of what we see happening in the 2020 numbers has to do with pandemic-related effects,” said Alyson Silkowski, a policy director at the New York City Comptroller’s Office. “In The Bronx, in particular, you would expect that the stimulus checks, the eviction moratorium, a number of steps that government took in those early days to ease the burden would have some impact on child poverty.”

Emerita Torres of the Community Service Society of New York similarly predicted that the 2022 numbers will reverse many of the 2020 trends as the federal benefits that came during the pandemic come to an end.

“I don’t think the decline in the poverty rate is going to be persistent,” Torres said. “In The Bronx, food insecurity is a huge issue. We still see long lines at the food pantries here. We still see relatively high unemployment rates in The Bronx.

“I do think that this decline in the poverty rate is not something we’re going to see long-term.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.