Tuesday, April 03, 2007

New York's Incredible Disappearing Middle Class

From this morning's AM New York:

Experts: Middle class getting squeezed in NYC

By Justin Rocket Silverman, amNewYork Staff Writer

April 3, 2007

The middle class is an endangered species in New York, and its survival could mean the difference between a stable city and one that is insecure and unsustainable, public officials warned at a forum Monday.

"Middle class people are not rich enough to be free of economic concerns but not poor enough to warrant charity," former Gov. Mario Cuomo said. "They are the people who work because they have to, not because a psychologist told them work is the best way to fill the time between birth and eternity."

Cuomo joined a host of other officials and economists at "The American Dream in the Big Apple," a conference sponsored by the Drum Major Institute, a progressive think thank. The three-term governor recalled raising five children in Queens in the 1950s and 60s on a household income of $30,000. Doing that today, he said, would be impossible.

"A lot of people who love this city and love their jobs are finding they can only afford to live in the suburbs," he said.

Panelists including City Comptroller William Thompson, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn/Queens) and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion spoke about the need for affordable health care, quality public education, affordable housing and small-business loans as the foundation of any strong middle class.

"We have been so obsessed with big business in midtown Manhattan that we forget most new jobs come from small businesses in the other boroughs," said Weiner, who proposed the city should help coordinate group health care rates for the employees of small companies that can't provide coverage otherwise.

By most measures, the observers said New York City seems to be doing a dismal job of maintaining a vibrant middle class. A study by the Brookings Institution last summer revealed that the five boroughs had the smallest number of middle-income families as a proportion of total population than any other city in the country. Instead the city is more polarized by the divide between the ultra-rich and the working poor.

"You never want a city of just the rich and just the poor," Thompson said. "That is not a healthy city."

The Drum Major Institute's survey of more than 100 political and business leaders on middle class issues found that:

* It takes an annual income of about $100,000 for a family of four to attain a middle-class standard of living. The median annual income for this size family in the city is $49,379.

* A middle class standard of living includes having health insurance, access to the Internet, good public schools for children, a retirement plan, annual vacations and air conditioning.

* A single person needs an income of $45,000-$90,000 to attain this middle class standard of living in New York City.

* 92 percent of respondents said it is "somewhat harder" or "much harder" for a low-income worker to enter the middle class today than it was just 10 years ago.


Lorraine said...

We are having a very similar conversation in Seattle these days. Everyone I know who has bought a house in the last 2 years or so has had to do it way far north or south of the city. We consider ourselves so fortunate to have found our place when we did...even at the very nice salary The Spouse makes we would never be able to buy in now. An average single family mid-century house these days will run you upwards of $400k. That's insane. And then the policy makers lament that there are only 1000 children living in the downtown area. You can't squeeze out the middle and expect the level of vibrancy that is required of a "big city". Hopefully we'll come up with some solutions sooner rather than later.

Peter said...

wait...Lorraine lives in Seattle, too?


Yo, Lorraine, drop me a line: parmstrong@sanctuarycrc.org. Maybe we can start a "Seattle prays for NYC" group or something.

Laurie said...

Can Pastor's be middle class if middle class people earn $100,000? I think not.

Dana said...

It would be interesting to see those stats broken down by borough rather than just citywide. The cost of living in the the other 4 boroughs is significantly lower than Manhattan...

In my experience, middle class living in Manhattan will require more than $100,000 for a family of four. $125,000/year is closer to the mark. And we're not even thinking about buying property. A small, 900-1,000 sq ft apartment on the upper west side would run around $1,000,000. Rents for 2 bedroom apts. are $2,500/month and up (mostly up).

I'm not a big believer in artificial regulation of markets, but this housing market is CRAZY and I don't see an end in sight. The demand is here, and there are people who can afford to pay the astronomical rents.