Friday, March 22, 2013

Manhattan for the Middle Class

One of the most memorable articles I've read in the New York Times appeared when Paul and I honeymooned here almost 10 years ago. As I recall, it was about people (kids?) who lived in the outer boroughs -- Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island -- but had never been to Manhattan. I think at least some of them could even see part of the Manhattan skyline from their homes or neighborhoods.

That article from long ago was again at the front of my mind when I read a more recent story in the New York Times. The article, "What Is Middle Class in Manhattan?" is a fascinating look at what it takes to live in Manhattan. Just because you've set foot in the borough doesn't mean you've "made it." Surprise, surprise: The assets you need to live a middle class life here would make you rich elsewhere in the country.

From the article:
"By one measure, in cities like Houston or Phoenix — places considered by statisticians to be more typical of average United States incomes than New York — a solidly middle-class life can be had for wages that fall between $33,000 and $100,000 a year.

"By the same formula — measuring by who sits in the middle of the income spectrum — Manhattan’s middle class exists somewhere between $45,000 and $134,000.

"But if you are defining middle class by lifestyle, to accommodate the cost of living in Manhattan, that salary would have to fall between $80,000 and $235,000. This means someone making $70,000 a year in other parts of the country would need to make $166,000 in Manhattan to enjoy the same purchasing power.

"Using the rule of thumb that buyers should expect to spend two and a half times their annual salary on a home purchase, the properties in Manhattan that could be said to be middle class would run between $200,000 and $588,000."
A family of four with a yearly income of $68,700 even qualifies for public housing, I was surprised to learn a little later in the article.

Yes, there is a Manhattan for the rich and a Manhattan for the poor. The city has places to get gourmet pizzas and dollar slices, places to get a hot dog for a couple of bucks or order a tasting menu for a couple of hundred dollars.

Of course, there are options for those who are priced out of Manhattan: those same outer boroughs I mentioned earlier. In fact, some neighborhoods in Brooklyn are just as popular as others across the river -- so much so that now families are getting priced out of some Brooklyn neighborhoods, like Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope.

And so former and would-be city dwellers keep moving further out. Now there's even talk of Bay Ridge becoming a hipster enclave, with its new Brooklyn Industries store and the upcoming opening of a new beer garden.

It'll be a while before Bay Ridge becomes the new Williamsburg (which itself is already the Brooklyn version of Manhattan's Village). But people won't stop flocking to New York; they'll just find alternatives to Manhattan that are less expensive and less convenient. And they'll make those neighborhoods their own. And one or two of them will become the next big thing. And the circle of life in New York will continue.

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