here to read any of the commentaries
in this series.
As the song goes, ďIf I can make it there, Iíll make
it anywhere, itís up to you, New York, New York.Ē The problem is
that if you are counting on making it in New York City, you could
be setting yourself up for disappointment.
A recent report by The
Center for an Urban Future, a public policy organization dedicated to dealing with the problems facing
low-income and working-class neighborhoods in New York City, suggests
that the Big Apple is too expensive for most people to live. The
report, called Reviving the City of Aspiration: A study of the challenges
facing new York Cityís middle class, confirms what many New Yorkers already knew anecdotally
- with an ever-widening gap between earning power and expenses,
New York is unable to sustain a middle class. In a city where even
many upper middle class families are stretched to their limits,
the cost of living is beyond the reach of most working families.
The city lost more than its fair share of blue collar manufacturing
jobs over the years. There are no new jobs to create or sustain
a middle-class lifestyle, and there is little hope of upward mobility.
New York City never was cheap, but it was once perceived as a city
of aspiration, a place where people could live, work, scratch their
way up the ladder, and raise a family. But people are leaving, and
the path from poverty to the middle class is proving far more elusive.
These days, the city is losing a number of demographic
groups, including people with a bachelorís degree, families, immigrants,
municipal workers, and the Black community of Eastern Queens, one
of the countryís largest African American middle class populations.
Meanwhile, the ranks of the poor are rising. In 2005,
46% of new Yorkers living in poverty held regular jobs, a 17 point
increase from 1990. And 31% of New Yorkers over age 18 work in low
There are a number of challenges facing working families.
First and foremost, of course, is the high cost of living, particularly
exorbitant housing costs. In addition, the price New Yorkers pay
for electricity, phone service, auto insurance, parking, milk, home
heating oil and state and local taxes are among the highest in the
nation. While most families require two working parents to make
ends meet, child care is prohibitively expensive, averaging $13,000
to $25,000 per year, per child. Then there are the inferior
quality schools and the long, uncomfortable commutes on public transportation
for people who live outside Manhattan, in one of the outer boroughs.
And there was the housing boom which led to haphazard construction,
diminishing the aesthetic qualities of many New York City neighborhoods,
and straining the infrastructure of many communities.
to understand how bad things are, consider this: in Manhattan, the
nationís most expensive urban area, it takes an annual salary of
$123,322 to enjoy the same standard of living as someone making
$50,000 in Houston. In San Francisco, the nationís second most expensive
place, you would need $95,489 to live like that person in Houston.
In Queens, NY (the fifth most expensive area in the nation) $85,918.
In Nassau County, NY, $83,168. In Los Angeles, $80,583. In Boston,
$72,772. What about Philadelphia? You would require $69,196. Chicago,
$63,421. In Atlanta, only $53,630.
As for those who are leaving New York, where are
they going? Well, it should be no surprise that they are moving
to places such as Philadelphia. Iím not surprised because I am a
New Yorker who moved to Philadelphia. I was born and raised in New
York, and although I had lived in a number of places - as diverse
as Boston, Detroit and Tokyo - I was a New Yorker. You can never
really get the New York out of your system, even if you try, and
you probably wouldnít want to do it in any case. A New York community
activist and journalist, I came to Philly for law school, where
I met my wife, a Philadelphian turned New York activist. We had
grand ideas of moving to Brooklyn after law school. But we were
pulled back to Philadelphia, in no small measure, because we had
expensive college and law school education, but with public interest
careers with modest salaries serving underserved communities. You
do the math. And besides, Philadelphia is a great city with a distinctive,
down-to-earth character, a thriving arts community and public parks,
and a sizable progressive community, albeit with its problems and
challenges like any other city.
Meanwhile, New York, the capital of American capitalism
and global capitalism, has become a city that only AIG executives,
hedge fund managers, art dealers, and hotshot corporate lawyers
can afford. The rest are poor, strangled and struggling. This is
a scenario that would make Dickens blush. Yet, this was in the works
for years before the economic crisis, in a city and a nation that
has witnessed the dramatically widening gap between rich and poor,
via public policy. And how telling that the titans of capitalism
- who have brought down Wall Street through their own unchecked
greed, and have no qualms about taking their corporate stimulus
welfare payments - are now fighting vigorously to kill the Employee Free Choice Act and other initiatives that would help average working
New Yorkers earn a living and raise their families.
As the report notes, there are a number of things
that should be done to save New York: better-paying jobs, upgrades
to infrastructure, diversifying the economy to include green jobs,
and utilizing community college as a path to upward mobility. And
there is the need to move away from the construction of luxury developments
and sports stadiums, towards building affordable homes for everyday
families, people with middle incomes, and professionals.
In the end, New York City provides a reality-based
cautionary tale about the future of America, mired in poverty, about
its priorities, what it has become and what it can become. This
city that never sleeps, and other cities as well, will experience
economic and social death without a vibrant middle class and viable
opportunities to earn a living.
here to read any of the commentaries
in this series.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a lawyer
and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive
Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune
News Service, In These Times
and Philadelphia Independent
Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons
(St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International
UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference
as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and
served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is davidalove.com.
here to contact Mr. Love.