Sunday, February 22, 2009

Being Middle Class Costs a Lot

"The term ‘middle class’ is difficult to define by income, because it connotes not just earning power, but a style of life, a set of values and tastes, a level of education and a class of occupation."
So wrote David K. Shipler in the New York Times in 1969.

Shipler was quoted in a report put out this month by the Center for an Urban Future called "Reviving the City of Aspiration: A study of the challenges facing New York City's middle class" (see it in PDF form here). As any New Yorker knows, paying 50% of one's income for rent is not unusual in the Big City. But what makes a New Yorker middle class?

In 2007, the median income in New York was $48,631 for a household (not a single person, but a household), so technically, middle class should be between $38,905 and $58,937.

Not exactly, say the report's authors:
"Given the vastly higher cost of living in New York City, however, it is doubtful that any New York household that earns even $60,000 per year enjoys a quality of life that remotely approaches what we typically imagine as 'middle class.' The 'New York City premium' on goods and services from housing and groceries to utilities and transportation means that a $60,000 salary earned in Manhattan is the equivalent of making $26,092 in Atlanta; $31,124 in Miami; and $35,405 in Boston. In less-expensive Queens, that same $60,000 salary carries only as much purchasing power as $37,451 in Atlanta, $44,673 in Miami, or $50,819 in Boston. In other words, income levels that would enable a very comfortable lifestyle in other locales barely suffice to provide the basics in New York City."
Lilian Roberts, the president of the City's largest municipal union adds,
"What you would call middle class elsewhere you would call working poor here. Most of our members have all the status symbols of the middle class, including credit cards, TVs and cars. So they don’t see themselves as being poor, even when they can’t afford decent health care or child care."
Well said. According to another group, a middle class family of four would make between $75,000 and $135,000. A single person, $45,000 to $90,000.

Little things add up in New York. And with a City income tax added on to State and Federal, and no Renters' Credit (effectively a property tax refund for apartment dwellers in Minnesota), living here is even more expensive.

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