According to the Census, the one in five translates to a family of three earning less than $18,000 a year.
The annual report, called the American Community Survey (ACS) and issued for the year 2010, also states that the poverty rate increased from 18.7 percent in 2009 to 20.1 percent in 2010.
More than 1.6 million New Yorkers live below the federal poverty line of $18,310 for a family of three – the highest level since the year 2000.
While nationally, the median household income declined 2.3 percent to $49,445 from 2010 to 2011, in New York City, median household income dropped 4.6 percent to $48,743.
The report also reveals that racial disparities continue to be high. Hispanic and African American households earned less than what caucasian households earn, with Hispanics earning a little bit more than half the income of white households and blacks earning 60 percent of white households.
Given the high cost of living in New York, the numbers are unsettling. The federal poverty level is set at $10,830 for a family of one, but a more accurate measure of poverty is the New York Self-Sufficiency Standard, which takes into account county-by-county costs of housing, child care, food, health care, transportation, and other factors.
The New York City Self-Sufficiency Standard sets the poverty level by borough, ranging from $23,394 in the Bronx to $50,570 in Manhattan South for an individual.
This could mean that the number of New Yorkers struggling to make a living is even higher than the Census estimates.
“With more than 20 percent of New Yorkers living in poverty and nearly half of these individuals working full or part-time jobs, we need bold action from local, state and federal government to create quality jobs,” said Matt Ryan, executive director of ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York, in a statement.
The report also shows that one in four New Yorkers lives in a household that can't afford enough food.
Many more New Yorkers depended on some form of public assistance in 2010 than in 2009. And 1.8 million residents, translating to nearly one in five households, are now relying on food stamps.
The Census numbers coincide with a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture, which claims that almost one million households throughout the state are now struggling to put food on the table.
“People are desperate for living wage jobs. And until those jobs are created, we must find the revenue to keep struggling New Yorkers fed and off the streets,” said Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, in a statement.
But even living-wage jobs are hard to come by for some residents. Jane Rangel (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) used to have her own small business on Willoughby Street in Downtown Brooklyn. But in the past year, with the redevelopment of the neighborhood, she was forced to move as rent nearly tripled.
Currently looking for a job, she has even searched for a retail position at a big box store in Brooklyn, but was told that she “doesn’t have enough experience in retail.”
Monami Maulik, executive director at Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) in Jackson Heights, noted that since the recession, the burden of not having a job plunged a lot more DRUM members, whether documented or undocumented, into poverty.
“The majority of our members, comprised of many undocumented immigrants, live below the poverty level, earning $5 or less per hour,” she said. “But we find similar things with new, documented immigrants.
“A lot of Bangladeshis who often come with lottery visas, find it hard to find work because of language barriers or limited education,” she added, “so often they’re working similar jobs to undocumented immigrants.”
The ACS also found that Manhattan continues to have the biggest income gap of any county in the country, with the top one-fifth of earners (who earn an average income of $371,754) making nearly 38 times as much as the bottom fifth ($9,845).
According to a report issued by ALIGN last month and based on the Census findings, poverty and working poverty in the Bronx is the highest of any of the boroughs, with 30.2 percent of the total population living below the federal poverty line.
Brooklyn comes in second with 23 percent of the total population living below the federal poverty line. And in Queens, 15 percent of the total population lives below the federal poverty line.
New York City’s numbers look bleak when compared to the state and national numbers. Statewide the number of individuals living in poverty is 16 percent, and nationwide the poverty rate is 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009.