By Sara Marcus, Staff Writer
On November 27th, the YU College Democrats hosted a panel on financial insecurity and its effects on our metropolitan area, entitled “Poverty in New York City.” The panelists included Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Met Council CEO David Greenfield, and YU sociology Professor Daniel Kimmel. Democrats Club members Molly Meisels and Rachel Shulman moderated.
Greenfield and Assemblyman Hevesi have dedicated their careers to combating the devastating poverty in New York City. Greenfield, as head of Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, oversees several social service programs such as affordable housing, health insurance, career services, and food banks, among other poverty related services. Meanwhile, Hevesi represents the 28th District of Queens in the New York State Assembly, and in coordination with multiple nonprofits, has created the Home Stability Support Program to provides rental subsidies to families who are at risk of losing their homes. The last panelist, Dr. Kimmel, is an assistant professor of sociology in Yeshiva University, and one of the most popular professors at YU, having received the Professor of the Year award in 2017.
For over an hour, the panelists discussed the roots of poverty along with the social and political means of addressing it.
Greenfield revealed a unique face to the problem of poverty explaining that “40% of our clients are elderly… the root cause [of their poverty] is that life expectancy has increased more than it ever has in history. If you’re currently eighty years old, you planned to be financially stable until you’re seventy years old. Now, by the time you hit seventy three, you’re out of money,” he said.
Kimmel chimed in that while people perceive the victims of poverty as middle aged, the majority of people struggling financially are either very old or very young, and unable to have jobs that would provide a stable income for themselves.
The difficulty of tackling poverty, said Havesi, is persuading those in power to take preventative measures. “The policy makers… are trained to put out the fire and move on to the next fire. Nobody’s thinking about long term things. It’ll be somebody else’s problems.”
Greenfield, who works in the public sphere, frames his job as “[putting] out fires. I spend 90% of my time figuring out how to put out the fire of poverty. The other 10% of my time I spend trying to figure out, among those people I am serving..how many can i try help lift out of poverty?”
Describing homelessness as the defining and most tragic consequence of poverty, Havesi spoke at length about a rental supplement program for people at risk of losing their homes. He and his office have been working hard on persuading the state to take on the program, and recently began a pilot trial in Rochester. According to Havesi, it would cost a significantly lower amount than for-profit shelters.
Meisels said she was pleased by the event turnout, as several audience members could not even find seats to sit. Shulman also commented that “events such as this one are vital as they keep the student body engaged and ensure that they remain informed about current public policy issues.”
Kimmel responded that he hoped “the event was .. useful for the students in attendance… [Breaking] down these kinds of misconceptions is really important before we’re able to do anything about the reality of the problem. Poverty is a real rubber-meets-the-road topic in politics and policy, and therefore gives good leverage for people to think about practical solutions to real issues.”
Sarah Casteel, SCW ‘19, reflected that “the poverty event was by far the best event I’ve been to this year. I saw the panel of speakers and was really looking forward to hearing their perspectives, and I was not disappointed. I think the organizers did an incredible job picking a comprehensive and impressive panel of judges to shed light on the issue and to inspire the audience. Our school was really lucky to have this event and I’m thankful to my friends and peers who took all the time to organize it for us.”