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By Joe Anuta

September 30, 2011

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week painted a bleak economic picture of Queens, where one in seven residents lives below the federal poverty line and the percentage of residents who are struggling to meet basic needs is far higher.

In some areas Queens fared better than the city as a whole, but the numbers were still discouraging, according to a New York-based nonprofit.

“While city and state officials have spent years denying the extent of the poverty and inequality here, the new data leaves no doubt that poverty is soaring here, while inequality is surging,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

In New York as a whole, one in five residents live in poverty, which is the highest level since 2000, the Census reported. In addition, median income in the city has dropped 5 percent since 2007 to $48,743.

In Queens, average household median income has fallen as well. In 2010, the American Community Survey, which is separate from the U.S. Census population count, estimated the number at $53,054, which is a drop of $3,162 from 2009. Median household income also declined compared to 2007, before the recession, when it was $55,871, the Census survey said.

More Queens residents are living below the poverty line than in the past four years. In 2010, 15 percent of borough residents lived below the federal poverty line of $10,830, according to the survey. That number is up from 12.6 percent in 2009 and 12.2 percent in 2007, the survey said.

But a report by Align, a city nonprofit, suggested that the federal poverty line does not accurately measure hardship in New York City, where the cost of living is higher than anywhere else in the country.

The report cites an economic measure called the Self Sufficiency Standard. It is an income value barometer that correlates to the minimum wage needed to meet basic needs including housing, child care, food, health care and transportation.

The standard for Queens was $31,185 — the second highest after Manhattan — which over half of borough residents do not meet, the report said.

In addition, a spokeswoman for Align said nearly half of the borough’s poor still work at part-time or full-time jobs.

“A lot of the newer jobs are poverty-wage jobs,” Kristi Barnes said. “Rezoning and other policies have been replacing middle-class industrial jobs with part-time retail and other low-wage opportunities.”

The number of borough residents who use food stamps also increased significantly, with 14 percent of households relying on them in 2010. That number is up from 11.7 percent in 2009 and 8.7 percent in 2007, the survey said.

The number of uninsured residents in the borough jumped 1.8 percent over 2009, with 18.6 percent of the borough’s population lacking coverage, according to the Census survey. Residents who were not born in the country — who constitute just under half the borough’s population — made up nearly three-fourths of the uninsured in 2010.

But it was not all bad news for Queens.

In addition to having a poverty rate better than every borough except Staten Island, Queens had the most equal distribution of income by race in the city, with black, Latino, Asian and white households all making between $50,000 and $55,000.

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