It is usually reluctantly that they initially decide. Tired of cramming into a small two-room apartment (or more rarely three-room apartment), exhausted from having to fight for their children to have access to a good school, worried that their salaries will stagnate while the cost of living increases inexorably. In Manhattan, the middle class has the blues and is increasingly being forced to leave. In the other boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Staten Island), further in the state of New York or in the contiguous states (New Jersey, Connecticut). The movement is done in waves, depending on the general and personal economic situation.
Thus, between 2010 and 2013, 254,000 people, many of them from the middle class, resolved to leave one of the most expensive cities in the world. A migration which seriously worries politicians of all tendencies. Because, as the Democrat Christine C. Quinn, then president of the city council of the city of New York, recalled in February 2013 in a report entitled The middle class is shrinking, “the city of New York needs its middle class to develop and maintain a balance between the interests of the rich and the poor ”. Its very existence allows citizens to keep all their confidence in society, considers the Nobel Prize winner in economics Joseph Stiglitz, who otherwise find themselves undermined by excessive inequalities. Alerted by the fact that New York is the most unequal city in the country, Mayor Bill de Blasio – and before him Michael Bloomberg tries to provide answers to this problem, which is all the more delicate because behind the term “middle class” very diverse realities are hidden.
Indeed, the category which today is impoverished and in the process of disappearance in the metropolis could be qualified “of old middle class”. It is made up of police officers, teachers, workers, small traders. As time goes by, a highly educated, graduated, qualified and high-paid population takes its place.
Like Boston, Denver or San Francisco, New York is becoming the place where thousands of highly specialized young people converge each year, especially in new technologies. Elsewhere, they would belong to the upper class, here they are simply part of the middle class. It is obviously not them that officials think of when they are alarmed by the departure of some New Yorkers, but rather those who find themselves confronted with three major problems.
First difficulty: employment and wages. While the city has weathered the crisis better than other municipalities, in a decade the professional landscape has radically changed. Between 2000 and 2013, the city gained 250,000 jobs, of which around 200,000 offer extremely low pay in health, retail, leisure and hospitality.
The remaining 50,000 correspond to highly skilled trades in finance or high technology and offer high salaries. Between these two extremes, we see the disappearance of thousands of functions traditionally occupied by the middle class, in particular in the public sector and the manufacturing industry which has long been the soul of the city. This explains why the average unemployment rate in this sector was 6.2% in 2012 against 2% before 2008. And when, by chance, employees manage to keep their activity, the remuneration often turns out to be insufficient to stay on. in The Big Apple.
However, the second handicap, at the same time, the prices of housing and everyday life have increased dramatically. In ten years, rents have increased by 75% while incomes have increased on average by only 4.8%. When you do not have the possibility of living in social housing or a rental apartment called “controlled or stabilized”, the price can be increased every year, without any limit. As a result, a New Yorker spends between 30% and 50% of his income on housing.
As for the purchase of real estate, the situation does not appear any easier: prices have climbed three times faster than wages and very heavy taxation in the form of property taxes, both from the city and from New York State hits homeowners. At the same time, the cost of electricity, telephone, car insurance, fuel, parking and even … milk continues to grow. In principle, a single person or better yet a couple still manages to pay the bills. But the situation becomes difficult to sustain when the family expands.
Children, a strong motivation to go into exile
Because, an additional concern, the arrival of a baby forces parents to increase their efforts to provide an acceptable living environment for their offspring. And it’s obviously no coincidence that only 17% of Manhattan’s people have children, half the number in the rest of the country.
In addition to the difficulty of being able to expand, there are the costs linked first to childcare, then to the education of children. Not very confident in public education, often rightly so, the middle class prefers the private sector. But a year, a primary school can cost between 7,000 and 40,000 dollars, depending on the neighborhood, the reputation and the program offered. Not to mention the many and inevitable extracurricular activities.
To respond to these challenges and stem the exodus, Bill de Blasio has just launched a plan to build and renovate housing that will be accessible to the most modest and the middle class.
With the arrival of 200,000 new apartments over ten years, this project would also allow the creation of 194,000 jobs in construction. He would also like to open public preschool classes. But we are not there yet, for lack of resources. So, in the meantime, leaving becomes the solution. Far out in the boroughs, as the parts of Brooklyn and Queens that touch Manhattan are already beyond their reach.
In South Bronx where the school system still leaves much to be desired, or Staten Island on which promoters are starting to set their sights. But it is especially the large suburbs of Westchester County and Long Island in New York State, or those of New Jersey and Connecticut that welcome the most families. Suddenly, some of these (distant) suburbs are becoming connected thanks to the very recent arrival of young and highly educated populations, notes Mitchell Moss, professor of urban planning in New York:
“They settle there not only because they find good schools, spacious houses and good public transport”, but also because they can shape the socio-cultural environment there. “An inventive social class is recreating its urban way of life in the suburbs,” says the professor.
A new eldorado for the middle class?