Both the affluent and the impoverished in New York City can ride the same mass transit system (the subway) and might work in the same office buildings. But at the end of the day - they return home to very separate parts of the city, their children attend dissimilar schools, and their families lead quite different lives.
The subway station at West 116th Street is in the 10027 zip code area (which extends north to West 135th Street). The subway station at West 86th Street is in the 10024 zip code area (which extends south to West 73rd Street). These two subway stations are separated by 30 blocks - a 30 minute walk, five minutes by car, 10 minutes by subway - and an ever-widening gap in opportunity more appropriate for a third world kleptocracy, than America’s largest and most affluent city.
Mayor de Blasio would bring an end to a divided New York with economic equality. Photo Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Median family income for zip code 10024 (the 86th Street subway stop) is $110,000/year, with only 7 percent of the population (and only 3 percent of its children) below the poverty level. By contrast, median family income in zip code 10027 (the 116th Street subway stop) is just $36,000/year, with 30 percent of its residents (and 40 percent of its children) living below the poverty level. Moreover, in the area from about West 116th Street to West 168th Street - at least half the children live in households at or near the poverty level.
Around the 86th Street subway stop, 75 percent of the over-25 population has at least a Bachelor's degree. And very often those degrees are from prestigious elite colleges, with names like Brown, Wellesley, Harvard and Yale. Around the 116th Street subway stop and further uptown, only 30 percent of the over-25 population has at least a Bachelor's, and their degrees are more likely from regional or community colleges. Graduation from college is a good indicator of lifetime income potential, so the 70 percent of the adult population in that area without any college degree is likely to keep falling even further behind.
From West 73rd to West 85th Street, 85 percent of the population is white. From West 116th to West 135th Street, only 30 percent of the population is white.
Frighteningly, the areas noted aren’t the poorest or the richest zip codes in New York City, nor are they the most racially disparate - the city has even larger extremes.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio listens to a question while testifying before a joint legislative budget hearing on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. De Blasio is urging state lawmakers to support his proposed tax hike on wealthy city residents to pay for universal prekindergarten. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
The people in these two worlds might be acquaintances at work - but, generally, they aren’t friends. An 86th Street resident with a Yale degree is unlikely to have friends uptown who never attended college. That Yale graduate residing near 86th Street probably grew up somewhere far from New York City. And friends outside that Yale graduate’s current socio-economic group likely reside back in a hometown far from the city (and frequently, outside the United States).
Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s signature proposals (cutting back on charter schools, offering pre-Kindergarden, and additional affordable housing) won’t make a dent in the widening gap between New York' “two cities.” The mayor’s education proposals, even if effective, would take at least a generation to have any impact. And affordable housing will do nothing to close the gap in opportunity and income.
These trends are not just about New York City, they are happening in much of America. Over the past generation, we’ve had ever-widening income inequality, combined with (at best) stagnant upward mobility and continued de facto segregation/discrimination. This isn’t a good picture of civil society. If we saw these characteristics in a foreign country, we’d expect seething discontent and riots.
I’m not sure how this tale of “two cities” ends for America, but if current trends continue, I don’t see this story having a happy ending.
Source: Unless otherwise noted, all demographic data is from Census.Gov
Steven Strauss is an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard University. Immediately prior to Harvard he was in charges of economic development strategy for NYC, as part of the Bloomberg administration.
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