Survival Guides (City Limits)

And now it can be revealed: One of the big projects taking up much of my time this spring was a special issue of City Limits magazine on low-income New Yorkers, how they make ends meet, and how government policy helps (or hinders) them in getting by.

Currently available online are the first two sections: My introduction on the anywhere from 1.5 million to 3 million New Yorkers (depending on how you count) who are poor, and the first of several profiles of low-income individuals — students, parents (single and otherwise), homeless shelter residents, low-wage workers — and their daily lives. From the former:

It’s a simple enough question on the face of it: How many people living in New York City are poor? The answer, it turns out, depends on how you count.

For decades, the milepost was the federal poverty line, a measure developed in 1963 by government statistician Mollie Orshansky to try to quantify how many Americans were in need. Noting that a federal survey had estimated the average American family’s food spending as one-third of its income, Orshansky took the cost of a subsistence “food basket,” tripled it and deemed families earning below that amount officially poor… [read more]

And from the latter:

It’s Monday, Jan. 31, and as usual, Tanya Fields is having a hectic morning. The Bronx mother of four has already had to juggle her schedule after her babysitter called in sick, forcing her to be late for an important appointment in downtown Brooklyn. But on this occasion—unlike her daily work running a nonprofit startup or her prior years as an environmental advocate—there’s no calling in sick or asking to reschedule: This appointment is for trying to keep her welfare benefits… [read more]

There are another four chapters after that, but the moment at least, you’ll need to buy a copy ($4.95 for a PDF, or add $2 shipping for a paper copy) to read those.

It’s well worth doing so, though, or else you’ll miss out on meeting people like Sharon Jones, Walter Greene, and Beverly Davis, and hearing what it’s like to live in the world’s most expensive city when your monthly income barely breaks four digits. Also, supporting City Limits, which enables me to write more of these stories. It’s a win-win!

[UPDATE: My entire article is now available online for free! But ordering a copy is still the polite thing to do.]