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New Robin Hood Report Quantifies Significant Connection Between Poverty and Poor Health Outcomes

A longitudinal study and series of reports will aim to better understand the more than two million New Yorkers living with high health care needs

New York, NY – February 1, 2022 – ​​Today, Robin Hood, in collaboration with Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, released its latest Poverty Tracker report, “Special Series on Health and Health Care in New York City.” Researchers found a significant link between poverty and high health care needs, which they define as experiencing multiple chronic health conditions, a work-limiting health condition, and/or severe psychological distress. One third of New Yorkers – or more than two million people – have high health care needs and are more likely to live in poverty. These New Yorkers with high health care needs are more likely to face economic disadvantage than those without, making it even more difficult to access care.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • Racial Inequities: Black and Latino New Yorkers are more likely to have high health care needs compared to white New Yorkers, reflecting the effects of structural racism where people of color face worse health outcomes including elevated rates of cancer, preterm birth, and mental health issues.
  • Poverty Connection: Over a five-year period, about 60% of those with high health care needs faced poverty in at least one year. Nearly 70%  faced a material hardship in at least one year.
  • Consequences of Poverty: The connection between high health care needs and poverty has troubling consequences. New Yorkers with high health care needs are more likely to have trouble paying for needed expenses like food, medical care, and utilities. In fact, 15% of those with high health care needs have trouble paying for food, compared to just 4% of those without such needs.
  • Education: High health care needs are correlated with degrees of educational attainment. Twenty-four percent of New Yorkers who have a bachelor’s degree or higher levels of post-secondary education have high health care needs, compared to 43% of high school graduates or those who did not complete high school.
  • Healthy Immigrant Paradox: Notably, U.S.-born New Yorkers are more likely to have high health care needs compared to immigrant New Yorkers, despite immigrants facing greater socioeconomic disadvantage. This falls in line with the Healthy Immigrant Paradox, which highlights that immigrants in the U.S. have better health outcomes compared to non-immigrants. This point raises questions about the drivers of health inequities.

“Not only does our country lag behind others in health and life expectancy, it is also home to stark inequalities with respect to health outcomes. Health care prices continue rising, often demanding astronomical prices for lifesaving drugs, procedures, and services, and yet those with the highest health care needs are the same communities who are experiencing higher rates of poverty in New York City,” said Richard R. Buery, Jr., CEO of Robin Hood. “This situation has undoubtedly worsened during the pandemic, as these same New Yorkers face higher incidents of serious illness and mortality from COVID-19, in addition to other devastating economic effects like income loss and housing insecurity. We will continue to expose these inequalities as we advocate for a health care and social services system that cares for all New Yorkers.”

Since 2012, the Poverty Tracker has surveyed a representative sample of New Yorkers every three months, providing critical information on the dynamics of poverty and other forms of disadvantage in the city while tracking data on employment, assets and debts, and health. With additional funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, today’s report is the first in a special series of three Poverty Tracker reports that will focus research on health care consumption, offering actionable insights for those aiming to improve the city’s health care system and its ability to serve all New Yorkers.

“The continuation of this study over time will be immensely helpful in understanding the challenges facing those with high health care needs, especially in these tumultuous years of the pandemic,” said Tracy Perrizo, Program Officer for Helmsley’s New York City Program. “This initial report underscores the real and devastating correlation between poverty and chronic health problems for many New Yorkers. We see great promise in this research to learn more from the respondents about what helps them with health stability and to identify solutions for health care to better meet all patients’ needs.”

“Both poor health and poverty limit the potential of individuals and families to prosper and thrive. Given the strong relationship between poor health and economic hardship, many of the most vulnerable New Yorkers end up experiencing both,” said Matthew Maury, Senior Research Analyst at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy. “We were interested in studying how New Yorkers with high health care needs fared economically with the hope of identifying possible solutions. We found that, in a given year, 40% of New Yorkers with such needs have trouble meeting routine expenses like paying for food, utilities, medical care, and housing, or run out of money between paychecks. Even more stark, this number jumps to 70% over a five-year period.”

Read the full report here. The second report in this series will be released later this year.


About Robin Hood:

Robin Hood has been fighting poverty in New York City since 1988. Because Robin Hood’s board covers all overhead, 100% of every donation goes directly to the poverty fight. Last year, Robin Hood awarded $172 million in grants, filling a critical void during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing cash assistance, meals, housing, healthcare, education, and other urgent needs to one million New Yorkers impacted by COVID-19, as well as funding an array of programs and initiatives developed to elevate families out of poverty in New York City. Follow the organization on Twitter @RobinHoodNYC and learn more at www.robinhood.org.

About the Center on Poverty and Social Policy (CPSP):

The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at the Columbia School of Social Work produces cutting-edge research to advance our understanding of poverty and the role of social policy in reducing poverty and promoting opportunity, economic security, and individual and family-wellbeing. The Center’s work focuses on poverty and social policy issues in New York City and the United States.

About Columbia Population Research Center (CPRC):

The Columbia Population Research Center supports population health researchers across Columbia University, galvanizing new interdisciplinary and cross-campus collaborations, promoting the professional development of junior scientists, and enabling members to do work that is more innovative and impactful. Our members’ interests encompass four primary research areas: Children, Youth, and Families; Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS; Immigration/Migration; and Urbanism, with cross-cutting attention to inequalities and policies to mitigate those inequalities.

About the Helmsley Charitable Trust:

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed more than $3 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes. 


Alaina Berner, aberner@skdknick.com