Creative Commons License

It’s Hard to Live in the City

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 04:11 PM EDT

The American ran a really great article last week on some recent demographic shifts in America’s biggest cities (esp. New York). Joel Kotkin documents how urban areas have increasingly transformed into playgrounds where an elite class entertains themselves, where the middle-class (and almost anyone with kids) can barely afford to hang around.

“… in Manhattan, where the rich are concentrated, the disparities between the classes have been rising steadily. In 1980 it ranked 17th among the nation’s counties for social inequality; today it ranks first, with the top fifth of wage earners earning 52 times that of the lowest fifth, a disparity roughly comparable to that of Namibia.”

It’s ironic that cities can maintain the appearance of being diverse by having low-pay service employees commute in from the periphery, when in reality what is emerging is a super-dense version of suburban-style uniformity. As Joel points out, “Since the 1990s virtually all the gains made in the New York economy have accrued to the highest income earners.” Some NYC demographics here.

This is part of some bigger patterns in the country (middle-class getting squeezed, rising income inequality). And it resonates with the remark you hear around New York, that the city is capitalism on speed, an amplification of the market-mindset and all its problems.

Regardless, I’m really excited I’m going to be back there this summer.