welcome back, grit

So NYC has lost 13,200 Wall Street jobs since last year. And New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli expects us to lose 40,000 by the end of the year. Even for the nation’s largest city, that’s a lot of jobs – a lot of high paying jobs. Tax revenues will take a serious hit (for the state as well). And I think NYC may look a little more like it did in the 80s. I’m not one of those people who has a fond nostolgia for then. You know the, “remember when NYC was NYC and not Disney?” As if grit and authenticity were the same thing. I would be glad if housing prices dropped; if the average cost of an apartment in Manhattan was well under 1.3 million. And with the loss of tens of thousands of financial jobs there would (WILL!) be a profound effect on the city. What’s fascinating about this is that in NYC it’s all about the rich getting less rich. That’s a crisis. I suspect things will change in the lives of the poor – but not that much. That’s never been a crisis.

8 thoughts on “welcome back, grit”

  1. Back in May, the NY Times had an online thing about “What Do You Miss Most About Old New York?” As I blogged at the time, the most contentious issue is urban disorder, and the flash point is Times Square, once seedy but now Disney-clean. One poster quotes Jimmy Breslin – “gimme the hookers!”– and another says, “Bring back the porn.” Other posters dismiss this sentiment. “Yeah, I really miss the prostitutes, squeequee shakedown artists, and crumbling tax base of “old New York”. How about some bankruptcy and racial violence while we’re at it?” All the responses were written from what seemed like the safety of permanent prosperity — way back five months ago.

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  2. You’ve put your finger on the unfortunate outcome of political rhetoric in this country: give money to the wealthy and it’s “sound economic policy” but give it to the struggling poor and it’s “socialism.”

    Heads I win, tails you lose…

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  3. As someone who was a college student in NYC in the early 90s, and who grew up going to NYC as a teenager in the 80s, I miss the old NYC (I don’t live there anymore). It’s not just about less expensive housing. It’s about all the other stuff that used to characterize the city: working class culture still thriving in many neighborhoods, even in pockets of Manhattan; cheap and delicious places to eat; people who valued having interesting lives and/or contributing to the social good more than making money; all kinds of cross-fertilization between art and radical politics; music and art happenings in abandoned buildings; squatters using old printing presses to produce anti-capitalist newsletters….I could go on and on. These things made NYC a much more interesting place to live than it is now.

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  4. @3, I’m suspicious of these kinds of responses, especially since there is still a working class culture in many neighborhoods – though you are right in believing it is more in the boroughs than Manhattan, cheap and good places to eat, people who care about the social good, art and radical politics, and music and art. I don’t know about the newsletters, and Dylan is no longer playing in Washington Square Park (though you can still buy drugs there).

    And I was in college round the same time as you, and we could watch drug dealers hang out in the park behind my roommate’s mother’s apartment a dozen blocks south of Columbia. More interesting times, yes. Good times?

    Finally, while we’re on the subject, when I was a lad, men were men and women were women, we walked 3 miles uphill to school, strangers gave us candy, we didn’t lock our doors at night, lions laid down with the lambs, and rich and poor bowled together.

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  5. “I suspect things will change in the lives of the poor – but not that much.”

    That’s a strange statement to make. There are a lot of poor and working class living off the largesse of rich people in NYC. Drivers of cabs and “black cars”, various construction trades both skilled and less skilled, restaurant employees, etc. Obviously, the person who goes from employed at a lower paying job to unemployed will be hit harder than someone whose net worth goes from $50 million to $10 million.

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  6. This downturn is unlikely (to put it mildly) to be a net gain for the poor. Declines in the price of real estate are unlikely to be make NYC all that affordable for working class people to buy in Manhattan or the closer parts of the Brooklyn and Queens. Much of these areas will still probably remain between $800-1200 / square foot. Meanwhile, thousands of working class jobs will be lost along with the Wall Street jobs.

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  7. @ 5&6: You’re absolutely right that the financial crisis will make things worse for the poor. What my quip meant to point to was that things have been getting worse for the poor for the last seven years in NYC, and actually much longer. Indeed, things have been getting worse for most Americans for a while. Wages have been largely stagnant for decades. But it’s a “crisis” when the rich are hit by it. The astonishing revenue deficits will most certainly hurt the lives of the poor. In NY over 1.5 million people live below the poverty line of $16,000 a year for a single parent with two kids. That’s a lot of folks. But that’s not a crisis. Wall Street folks losing their jobs: that’s a crisis.

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  8. That’s a possibility, but what about two variables that may confound the analysis: (1) levels versus changes, and (2) time horizon. The present situation could be viewed as a crisis to a greater extent than the other issues you mentioned because it involved a dramatic reduction in wealth over a short period of time. For the comparison to be the same, one would have to observe that a dramatic increase in poverty rate over a short period was observed as a non-crisis. Thoughts?

    With regard to wage stagnation, I had a few questions. (1) Is it clear that wages have stagnated? My understanding is that this issue is problematic due to at least three issues:
    (a) increases in benefits due to the rise in cost of health care and the tax status of benefits versus salary
    (b) comparison of different populations over time due to immigration, which drives wages down.
    (c) inflation is difficult to measure since changes in the standard basket of goods are qualitative as well as quantitative. (e.g. TVs getting cheaper but better quality too.)

    If wages have stagnated, it wouldn’t seem on the surface that things have gotten worse, only that things have remained the same. In other words, why should one expect wages to rise necessarily? Increasing inequality would seem to matter more than wage stagnation, in the sense that well-being is influenced by relative rather than absolute status. On that account, a shrinkage in the finance sector could be beneficial in the long run if inequality is reduced along with it.

    Also, the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer is such an old story as not be seen as interesting news, whereas when the rich suffer a reversal of fortune, that always piques interest and sells newspapers. My guess is that regardless of SES, most people prefer stories about reversals of fortune, so I would think that would drive it as much or more than a Marxian theory about the power elite dominating the media.

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