Monday is Labor Day, the day when we nominally celebrate work, and workers. This Labor Day, especially in New York City, there’s little to celebrate. New Census data shows that poverty is on the rise in New York City, with one in five city residents living below the poverty line. In the Bronx, over 30% of borough dwellers live in poverty. Only three counties in the country are poorer than the Bronx, and they’re all along the Texas-Mexico border.

The poverty line is a pretty harsh way to measure what it means to be poor. For a family of two adults and one child to be “below the poverty line,” they must earn less than $15,205 per year. That number is the same around the country, regardless of the cost of living. Here in New York City, an op-ed this week in the New York Times reports that median rents in Brooklyn are $790, and the $719 in the Bronx, but I don’t know anyone getting a two-bedroom for that price.

A recent report by the Community Service Society estimates that “65% of poor households, earning less than $14,000 annually, paid at least half of their income toward rent. That leaves an average of less than $30 a week per family member for all other expenses, such as food, transportation, and medication.” In order to be able to live decently in this city, the DC-based Economic Policy Institute reports that a family of three would need at least $4,221 each month, or $50,652 per year. That’s more than $35,000 shy of the poverty line.

Of course, we are a city of extremes. We have some of the poorest people, the worst housing, incredible homelessness, persistent hunger. And we have some of the richest people in the world within and near the five boroughs - in the Census Bureau's latest list of rich counties, five of the nation's top ten surround the city, with New Jersey's Sommerset County coming in with a median income of $85,000.

So the so-called recovery isn’t lifting all boats, surprise surprise. The Economic Policy Institute notes that the new Census numbers document “the unbalanced nature of the economic recovery.” The EPI report goes on "While the share of total national income flowing to the bottom 60% of households was essentially unchanged, the share going to the top 5% was up 0.4 percentage points, from 21.4% to 21.8%. As of 2004, the top fifth of households held 50.1% of all income, tied with 2001 for the highest share on record." Yes, the top richest fifth of Americans make half of all the income.

Here in New York, as throughout the country, people of color are among those left most high and dry by the “recovery.” Two reports from CSS document the incredible unemployment suffered by African-American men in the city: only 51.8 percent of Black men age 16 through 64 were employed in 2003. More than half of Black men in the city are out of a job.

Stark racial disparities in employment exist in the city’s youth as well. Among kids 16-24 who aren’t in school, only 43% of Black and 57% percent of Hispanic males were employed in 2000, compared with 73% of White and 70% of Asian males. And young women aren’t doing any better – 45% percent of Black and 43% percent of Hispanic females were employed in that year, while 54% percent of Asian and almost 70% percent of young White women held a job. And of course, unemployment data only count people actively seeking work, excluding those who have given up (and those who are in prison). Let’s not even talk about how many of those jobs provide anything close to a living wage.

Its not just jobs that are lacking. The jobs that people do have provide fewer benefits than in the past - nearly 20% of all working people lack health coverage. Overall, the number of people without health insurance was up nationwide, with 45.8 million people uninsured in 2004 (15.7% of all Americans). In New York, the percentage of state residents without insurance dropped a tiny bit, from 15.1% in 2003 to 14.2% in 2004.

With the mayoral election rapidly approaching, Mayor Mike is crowing about his successes in improving quality of life in the city. As the new poverty data indicate, however, quality of life is only getting worse for many New Yorkers. Having a job isn’t everyone’s goal, and work isn’t always fun – I’m not saying that people have to work in order to be happy or fulfilled. But not being able to pay the rent, not being able to eat, or clothe your children, that’s no fun either.

These numbers are telling, but they don’t communicate what its like to be hungry, or homeless, or living in substandard, overcrowded and unsafe housing. They can’t communicate the desperation of trying to live on minimum wage in a city where the price of food, transportation and housing rises every single month. Statistics don’t express what you feel every time you ride the train, and you see people who spend more on coffee every day than you have to feed your family.

I don’t have any neat summation of this. There are 1,668,938 people officially living in poverty in my city. That doesn't count the people working two minimum wage jobs, making too much money to be considered poor and not enough to live. These are people, real people, who are really struggling, and they’re essentially invisible. The crisis in New Orleans is incredibly real too, but in our society of spectacle, to borrow a phrase, a persistent crisis like economic inequality and injustice might as well not exist.