NYC: Where the Poor Stay Poor and the Rich Get Rich


Leonard Cohen is going to be stopping in New York on his latest tour and if everyone at his concert doesn’t shift uncomfortably in their seats when he sings “Everybody Knows,” well then, they’re just not listening to the words. New census figures demonstrate that the number of New Yorkers living in poverty has increased for the third straight year. But before you go worrying about all those poor people sinking into an even more intractable and dire situation, there is a silver lining. The rich people in New York have gotten richer! Such a relief. I really worry about those guys.

The New York Times reports that the income disparity in Manhattan is maybe the “starkest” it’s ever been. And that “the lowest fifth [of residents] made $9,681, while the highest took home $391,022. The wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites made more than 40 times what the lowest fifth reported, a widening gap (it was 38 times, the year before) surpassed by only a few developing countries, including Namibia and Sierra Leone.”

And, as bad as that sounds, the situation in New York is probably even worse than it appears. As WNYC comments, “For a single person, poverty is defined as living off less than $11,500 annually, and for a family of four the amount is $23,021 a year. Both government officials and public policy experts acknowledge that the threshold is too low, especially in high cost cities such as New York.” Which, yeah, I can’t really imagine $11,500/year taking a person very far in New York.

The Times went on to point out that it isn’t just that the income gap is widening, but that many groups have suffered more than others. Among them are “Hispanic people, New Yorkers over age 65, married couples, residents of Manhattan and Queens, and those without a high school diploma.” The only positive indicator appears to be that there is a “a decline in the poverty rate among children under 5.” I’m unclear if this is because little kids are now going to work? Or if it’s just that all the super-wealthy people who live here breed like crazy, which is also why we have so many big ass strollers cluttering the sidewalks? The data wasn’t specific on this point, but I’m sure it’s one of those two situations.

Another of the city’s smaller residents is not doing too badly. Mayor Bloomberg’s personal fortune rose again in the past year. NY Magazine’s Daily Intel reports that Bloomberg’s net worth is now $25 billion. And while it is true that Mayor Bloomberg “has worked to move more people into the middle class, by trying to hold onto jobs in the financial sector and attract new employers in everything from high tech to higher education,” this hasn’t seemed to translate into an actual middle class in this city, which has increasingly become a place of the very rich and the very poor, struggling to get by, or to get out.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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