The income gap between New York’s wealthiest and poorest citizens took center stage this last election, with now-mayor Bill de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” mantra. Now, a newly released report from the City University of New York shows how far apart those two cities really are. The Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies, part of the CUNY Graduate Center, looked at how income inequality shifted between 1990 and 2010. The short answer: the poor, adjusting for inflation, got poorer and the rich got much, much richer.
“No shit,” you respond, justifiably. But even the CUNY researchers were surprised by what they call the “extraordinary, and growing, concentration of wealth” in the hands of a very few. In 1990, the top one percent of New Yorkers had a median income of $452,415. In 2010, their median income was a cushy $716,625. In the same time period, the poorest ten percent of New Yorkers barely saw their incomes rise at all. The wealth concentration in white households also became “the most extreme in the City,” they add, with 42 percent of white households earning more than $100,000 a year.
In fact, wealthy white New Yorkers are richer by far than even the wealthiest Hispanic, Asian and black households. The richest ten percent of whites had a median income of $428,112 in “inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars,” according to the CUNY folks. Meanwhile, the wealthiest Latinos made a median of $173,347. For black households, it was $180,233, versus $228,935 for Asians.
In all, the wealthiest households continue to hold a greater and greater share of the city’s total income. On a graph, it looks like this:
Meanwhile, the poorest 40 percent of New Yorkers accounted for just eleven percent of the city’s total income in 2010. The bottom ten percent has seen a minimal rise in how much they make: a median of $8,468 in 1990 to $9,455 in 2010. (In the same time period, the average New York rent reached more than $3,000 a month.)
The income disparity is stunning, as is the racially skewed way it’s distributed. So what do the CUNY researchers suggest? At the very least, they say, maybe the richest New Yorkers could see their way to paying a little extra: “If this report demonstrates one thing,” they write, ” it is that New York City’s wealthiest families have become much richer in the past twenty years and that they can certainly afford to pay higher taxes for the overall well-being of all New Yorkers.”
We’re sure the city’s wealthiest denizens will agree to that arrangement in a heartbeat. Which one of you wants to go first?
The full CUNY report is on the following page.