06 February 2009

The Bloomberg Legacy

A article from City Room that is worth printing in full:

Questioning the Future for the Middle Class

By Sewell Chan

A new report by the Center for an Urban Future raises profound questions about the future of the middle class in New York City. The problems the report raises are well-known: a sharp increase in the cost of living, along with a reduction in the kinds of jobs that once propelled people from the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder into the realm of economic stability.

While the collapse of the mortgage and housing markets might provide some relief to a few home buyers, “its aftermath will not change the underlying dynamic: over the past three decades, a wide gap has opened between the means of most New Yorkers and the costs of living in the city,” the report states.

The 52-page report, “Reviving the City of Aspiration,” was based on economic, demographic and historical research; focus groups; and more than 100 interviews with economists and other academic experts. It was written by Jonathan Bowles, Joel Kotkin and David Giles.

The study noted several positive trends: increases in the number of building permits and home ownership rates; long waiting lists for day-care centers and private schools; and a widespread perception among middle class families that the family is safe and livable.

That said, middle class families are, in fact, departing, for destinations like Philadelphia; Charlotte, N.C.; Allentown, Pa.; and suburban Atlanta. Indeed, in 2006, New York City had a higher rate of domestic out-migration than struggling upstate cities like Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester and Syracuse. The report also noted that several key demographics — college graduates, families with school-age children, successful immigrants, municipal workers and members of the large black middle class population in eastern Queens — have seemed especially likely to leave.

The report grimly warned:

Unless we find ways to reverse some of the trends detailed in this report, the New York of the 21st century will continue to develop into a city that is made up increasingly of the rich, the poor, immigrant newcomers and a largely nomadic population of younger people who exit once they enter their 30s and begin establishing families. Although such a population might sustain the current “luxury city” — as Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously described New York — it betrays the city’s aspirational heritage. Further, a New York largely denuded of its middle class will find it nearly impossible to sustain a diversified economy, the importance of which is clearer than ever in light of the current finance-led recession.

Along with surging costs of living — for everything from rent to heating oil — and the decline in sustainable middle class jobs, the report also cites as reasons for middle class vulnerability such factors as still-failing schools, local infrastructure burdened by rampant development and the flight of university professors to more affordable parts of the country.

The report offers a litany of suggestions to make the city more palatable to the middle class: diversifying the economy to produce more equitable jobs; embracing community colleges as engines of social mobility; preserving middle class housing; improving transportation, schools and critical infrastructure; and paying closer attention to the boroughs outside Manhattan.

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