New York City’s Population: A Class Apart
By Lianne Turner
Kerissa Kahn, a 20 year-old student and retail clerk who immigrated to New York with her mother 18 years ago from Trinidad, leaned over the counter and said, “It’s not impossible to live here on my pay; sometimes you just have to do without.”
She would consider moving to New Jersey if the general living expense got any worse in the near future.
According to recent studies, the middle class population of New York City has diminished drastically over the past 30 years, and only represents 16% of the city’s population as of 2005. Though overall income levels are rising for the Northeast, it is becoming ever more difficult for middle class people to support themselves and their families.
The median household income for New York as of 2005 was $46,659, and had risen 1.9% since 2004 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Middle class can be technically defined as falling within 20% of the average median household income, so anyone within about a $9,000 range of the median would be considered middle class. By this rule, 41% of New York is made up of the lower class, and 43% is the upper class, leaving only 16% to the middle.
Some people are even leaving the city in order to maintain the sort of lifestyle to which they are accustomed. The population of New York City is 8.1 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau as of 2004.
Only 27.4% of these people hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, which in a study conducted by CUNY Center for Urban Research in 1997 could make you, “almost twice as likely to be members of the middle or upper class than those with a high school degree, and five times as likely as those without a high school degree.”
The percentage of New Yorkers with a high school degree was 79.1%, which is slightly lower than the average for the U.S. as a whole, possibly due to the need for many young people to go directly into the job market to help support a family.
Deandra Leon, a friendly young woman in a blue uniform, was one such case. A full- time mother who works in the safety industry, she considers the middle class to be “people who don’t work on Wall Street. Retail and security, you know?”
She would never leave the city, however, no matter how much it changed. “I was born and raised in New York. It would be really difficult to leave. It’s really hard to live in the city sometimes. I live in Brooklyn. (In Manhattan) some of the apartments cost $2,000 or $3,000.”
Many people who live in New York find that the upper class is to blame for the diminishing middle class. The numbers, though slight, support them in this theory, with 43% of New York making up the upper class.
The same study performed by CUNY Center for Urban Research found that “upper class New Yorkers received the vast majority of income gains, while incomes for middle and lower class families declined in the 1990’s.” That trend could be partially responsible for the fall of the middle class, as well as the high poverty levels that already inhabit New York City.
The number of people living below the poverty level in New York as of 2003 was over 1.5 million, making up 14.3% of the total population of the city. Of the 37 million people living in poverty in the U.S. in 2005, such a large concentration of impoverished people in conditions where even the middle class is struggling to survive is cause for concern for many.
Glenn Grieves, 19, a student at Marymount Manhattan College, suggests a different solution. “Change the economic policy. People who have large amounts of money don’t spend more when they already have half their income hoarded into trust funds for their kids.”
When asked who he thought had the biggest effect on the middle class, Grieves fervently replied, “I believe that government policy made it this way. People will live within the rules and expectations given to them. This doesn’t make them good or bad people.”
Both Leon and Khan agreed, saying that government adjustments need to be made in order to provide for the tax breaks and benefits necessary for the middle class to survive in New York, and for other metropolitan areas as well.
The CUNY study found that “fewer New Yorkers are members of the middle class today than in 1977 due to sluggish job growth, changes in the labor market, and mobility out of the city.”
Almost everything that could be affected by changes in government policy in the current administration.