New York in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Census 2000 was the first in which New York’s population topped 8 million, and the results reveal that the city’s recent growth owes to significant immigration from abroad.

During the 1990s, New York’s foreign-born population increased by nearly 800,000, helping to make the city one of the most racially and ethnically diverse in the U.S. Immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America account for roughly half the city’s foreign-born population, for example, yet New York also remains one of the foremost U.S. gateways for workers and families from Eastern Europe and China. Such inflows have made New York more youthful, have revitalized many of the city’s neighborhoods, and sustained the city’s growth in the 1990s despite large declines in its white population. However, segregation levels in New York remain high, with blacks and Hispanics heavily concentrated in different neighborhoods.

Census 2000 also confirms that New York’s economic profile weakened somewhat over the course of the decade. The educational attainment of the city’s workers increased, but their median household income decreased. The trend reflects a growing number of workers—especially families with children—earning low-to-moderate incomes, as well as the significant number of adults who are not in the labor force. Black and Hispanic households, in particular, lag whites and Asians in college degree attainment, income, and homeownership. Homeownership increased for all groups in the 1990s, but housing costs inordinately burden low-to-moderate income renters in New York, many of whom are minority families.

Along these lines and others, then, New York in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 concludes that:

  • New York’s population grew considerably during the 1990s, and the city remains a strong employment center in the region. Census 2000 reports the story: For the first time, a decennial census recorded a New York population in excess of 8 million. Neighborhoods throughout the city grew, especially in the outer boroughs, and population citywide increased by almost 10 percent. Unlike other cities in the Northeast, New York grew faster than its own suburbs, which include the upstate counties of Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester. Over 90 percent of New Yorkers work within the city—the highest proportion among the 23 Living Cities.

  • The city owes its population growth and unrivaled diversity to new arrivals from abroad. New York boasts high racial/ethnic diversity, with whites, blacks, and Hispanics each making up at least a quarter of the city’s population. This unique mix reflects New York’s continued status as one of the nation’s important immigrant gateways. The city added nearly 800,000 residents from abroad in the 1990s; without this gain in immigrants, the city would have lost population over the decade. Nearly half of the city’s foreign-born come from the Caribbean and Latin America, but significant numbers also hail from Eastern Europe and East Asia. This diversity is not uniformly dispersed, however. New York’s blacks and Hispanics, and blacks and whites, often live in very separate sections of the city.

  • The city’s residents are relatively young, but most have lived in New York for several years. Baby Boomers aged 35 to 54 are by far the nation’s largest age cohort, but people aged 25 to 34 make up New York’s largest age group. The city’s youth, however, belies the fact that more than 87 percent of its residents have lived there for more than five years, one of the highest rates among the Living Cities. New York also ranks high in the proportion of its households that are married couples with children, reflecting the continued immigration of younger Hispanic families to the city. Still, seniors represent a higher-than-average share of the population in New York, and reside in large numbers in neighborhoods at the edges of the city’s outer boroughs.

  • Income disparities in New York widened in the 1990s. New York managed to retain its middle class, unlike many other U.S. cities in the 1990s. At the same time, however, the number of city households earning low-to-moderate incomes, and the number earning high incomes, both grew rapidly. By 2000, more than a quarter of New York households had incomes below $18,000. Meanwhile, median household income fell 4 percent over the decade, and poverty increased. In part, these trends reflect the relatively low proportion of the city’s adults in the labor force (58 percent), and the significant gap that exists in median household income by race and ethnicity ($51,000 for whites, $28,000 for Hispanics). These income differences are rooted in divergent patterns of higher educational attainment. Compared to whites and Asians, black and Hispanic adults in New York are much less likely to hold a college degree.

  • All racial and ethnic groups made progress on homeownership over the decade, but New York remains a city of renters, many of whom face growing cost burdens. Overall, New York has the third-lowest homeownership rate among large U.S. cities, reflecting the high cost of its housing, the young age profile of its residents, and its large multifamily housing stock. Still, all racial and ethnic groups—African Americans, in particular—managed to make homeownership gains in the 1990s. For New York renters looking to graduate to homeownership, though, the barriers to accumulating savings are clear. The typical monthly rent in New York is third highest among Living Cities, and over half of moderate-income renters—those earning $20,000 to $35,000 a year—bear significant housing cost burdens. These burdens were likely exacerbated by the 8 percent rise in rental costs in New York in the 1990s, putting new pressures on the city’s supply of affordable housing.

By presenting the indicators on the following pages, New York in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 seeks to give readers a better sense of where New York and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s shaped the city, its neighborhoods, and the entire New York metro area. Living Cities and the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy hope that this information will prompt a fruitful dialogue among city and community leaders about the direction New York should take in the coming decade.

New York Data Book Series 1

New York Data Book Series 2