The Center for an Urban Future has released a startling report on the fate of New York’s middle classes — even as the population of the city continues to grow, its middle class is shrinking, and when it comes to domestic migration, there are clearly many more New Yorkers leaving town than there are people from other US towns moving in.
More residents left the five boroughs for other locales in each of the years between
2002 and 2006 than in 1993, when the city was in far
worse shape. In 2006, the city had a net loss of 151,441
residents through domestic out-migration, compared
to a decline of 141,047 in 1993. Overall, in 2006 the
city had a higher net domestic out-migration rate per
1,000 residents (-18.7) than struggling upstate communities such as Ithaca (-8.0), Buffalo/Niagara Falls
(-7.6), Rochester (-5.8) and Syracuse (-5.1).
A huge part of this is the sheer expense of living in New York — not just housing costs, although that’s a lot of it, but everything else, too, from car insurance to the price of milk. But it’s also that there simply aren’t middle-class job opportunities in New York any more:
Of the 10 occupations that are expected to have the largest number
of annual job openings in the city through 2014, only
two offer median wages greater than $28,000 a year.
Taking a wider view, 16 of the 40 occupations projected to have the largest number of annual job openings over the same period pay median wages below
$30,000 a year, while another six pay between $30,000 and $40,000.
This is a big problem, because a "luxury city", filled essentially with the rich and those who service them, with very little in the middle, can never be a vibrant and exciting place. College graduates like myself should want to come to New York, not because they think they can make millions here, but just because it’s a great place to live. And that seems to be happening less and less, as New York becomes increasingly unaffordable.
The authors write, quite rightly:
No city has had a greater history as a
middle class incubator than New York. As the legendary urbanist and long time New York resident Jane Jacobs once noted: “A metropolitan economy, if working
well, is constantly transforming many poor people into
middle class people, many illiterates into skilled people,
many greenhorns into competent citizens… Cities don’t
lure the middle class. They create it.”
That’s not happening any more, not in New York. And that’s very worrying.