The number of middle class New Yorkers is up since the recession, helped by a broader definition, but they are increasingly under pressure from higher housing costs.
February 11, 2013 1:47 p.m.
There are some 1.9 million middle class New Yorkers, enough to comprise the fifth-largest city in the country, just ahead of Philadelphia, according to a new City Council report. That number has grown by 126,000 since 2001, reversing long-standing trends of “white flight” from the city to the suburbs—between 1989 and 2000, the city lost some 86,000 middle class families.
Still, getting by in New York has not gotten any easier for these families, particularly when it comes to housing, where costs have been skyrocketing.
“We need to make sure that the people who want to stay in our great city can afford to stay here,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who released the report, The Middle Class Squeeze, in advance of her State of the City speech Monday afternoon. “We have no greater challenge or obligation to the families we represent than to tackle this problem head on and deliver results.”
The study is an update of one undertaken by the council in 1997. That report, entitled, Hollow in the Middle: The Rise and Fall of New York City’s Middle Class, found a decline dating back to 1989, in the number of New Yorkers with middle-class incomes. The study defines those in the middle class as a family of four earning between $66,400 and $199,200 annually.
One important difference between this study and the previous one is that while the lower limit of middle class has remained defined as 100% of the area’s median income (AMI), the upper limit has been defined upward from 200% of AMI to 300%, a shift that underscores how much more money it takes to be middle class in the city these days.
The report offers the example of “an experienced, single public school teacher earning $100,000.” This person would have fallen above the 200 AMI for a single individual, which is $93,000, technically making the teacher upper class. “It is hard to think of someone living on a school-teacher’s salary as upper income,” the report notes.
Meanwhile, housing costs have only been rising since 2001. The report finds that average rents are up 44% across the city (6.2% on an inflation adjusted basis) in the period, while the price to own a property has risen even more, up 47%. As a result, homeownership, long a badge of the middle class, fell to 51% in 2011, from 55% in 1999. And it is even harder to come by affordable housing depending on which borough one calls home—Manhattan has housing costs four-times the national average, the report notes, while Brooklyn is three-and-a-half times more expensive, and Queens two-and-a-half times more expensive.
As a result, Ms. Quinn is calling for new affordable housing measures in her State of the City address, in particular a program that will add 40,000 new units, the largest since the Mitchell-Lama program in the 1960s. She will also push to make as much of the city’s affordable housing stock permanently affordable, rather than allowing the affordability to expire over a period of decades.
“We will not allow middle class families to get priced out of the neighborhoods they helped build,” Ms. Quinn said during the speech. “We will keep New York City what it has always been – a place where opportunity is given, not just to those who can afford to buy it, but to those willing to work for it.”
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