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Class-Divided Cities: New York Edition

Class-Divided Cities: New York Edition
Zara Matheson/MPI

This is the first post in a series exploring class divides across America's largest cities and metros.

Social class, an inescapable presence in American life, influences almost every aspect of our culture. It is inscribed on our very geography. Although our cities are more than ever our most powerful economic engines, they also are becoming more divided along class lines, creating distinct experiences within a given city.

This divide is seen most clearly in where members of each class live. A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that residential segregation between upper- and lower- income households has risen in 27 of America's 30 largest metros over the past several decades. Compounding this polarization between rich and poor neighborhoods, the share of middle-income neighborhoods has declined substantially.

This growing socio-economic divide is not just an American phenomenon. In Canada, Toronto [PDF] and Vancouver [PDF] — two metros known for their liberal approaches to health care, education, multiculturalism, and the environment — have both been affected by this trend, according to a pair of detailed studies by the University of Toronto's Cities Centre. Both have seen the erosion of once stable middle–income neighborhoods, the dramatic growth of lower–income areas, and increased segregation of rich and poor in their own separate enclaves.

To get a better sense of the scale of the divide in American cities, my research team at the Martin Prosperity Institute — relying on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey — plotted and mapped the residential locations of today's three major classes: the shrinking middle of blue-collar workers in manufacturing, transportation, and maintenance; the rising numbers of highly paid knowledge, professional, and creative workers in the creative class; and the even larger and faster-growing ranks of lower-paid, lower-skill service workers. For the next few weeks, I'll be exploring the various divides in some of America's largest cities and metros.

We begin today with New York. New York is America's largest city and metro. It also ranks first among the 10 largest metros for its percentage of low-income households that are located in exclusively low-income census tracts (41 percent), according to the Pew study cited above. It ranks third on the study's overall measure of residential segregation. And it ranks fifth among the largest metros, after Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Los Angeles, for its percentage (16 percent) of upper-income households that are located in exclusively upper-income tracts.

Like most studies of its kind, the Pew report establishes residential patterns on the basis of income. Our data, maps and tables (below) are based instead on the type of work that residents do — their socio-economic class.

The first map (above) charts the geography of class for the whole New York metro.

The geographic divide is pronounced. The creative class lives in the areas that are shaded in purple, the red areas are primarily service class, and the blue are working class. Each colored space on the map is a Census tract, a small area within a county that in cities can be even smaller than a neighborhood. We only used tracts with at least 500 employed residents, so some tracts do not appear on the map.

The creative class, which includes workers in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture media and entertainment, and law and healthcare professions, makes up 35.8 percent of the New York City metro area’s workers. These are high-skilled, highly educated, and high-paying positions which average $87,625 in wages and salaries.

Across the metro area, the creative class numbers more that 40 percent of residents in 37.6 percent of tracts (1,641) and more than half of all residents in 21.2 percent (926 tracts). There are 214 tracts (4.9 percent) that are more than two-thirds creative class, and 45 (1.0 percent) where the creative class makes up more than three-quarters of all residents.

Top 10 Creative Class Locations in New York Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Creative Class Share
Jersey City, New Jersey (77) 83.5%
Columbia/Morningside Heights, Manhattan (207.01) 83.0%
Upper East Side – Carnegie Hill, Manhattan (130) 82.3%
West Village/Washington Square, Manhattan (55.01) 81.9%
Park Slope – Gowanus, Brooklyn (165) 81.9%
West Village/Meatpacking District, Manhattan (79) 81.5%
Lincoln Square, Manhattan (147) 80.9%
Park Slope, Brooklyn (157) 80.9%
Jersey City, New Jersey (58.02) 80.8%
Brooklyn Heights – Cobble Hill, Brooklyn (5.02) 80.6%
Metro Average 35.9%

 

The table above shows the top 10 creative class locations (defined as Census tracts with more than 500 people) in the metro area. The creative class makes up more than 80 percent of residents in each of them, or more than two and half times the metro average of 35.9 percent.

This is a highly concentrated geographic area mainly in and around Lower Manhattan. It includes two tracts in the West Village, two in Jersey City, New Jersey, two in Park Slope, one in Brooklyn Heights, one in Morningside Heights adjacent to Columbia University, one in the Upper East Side and one in Lincoln Square (Broadway and Columbus Avenue in the '60s, near Lincoln Center).

The service class includes the low-wage, low-skill workers who hold routine service jobs in food service and preparation, retail sales, clerical and administrative positions and the like. This is the largest class of workers, making up 48.1 percent of the region’s workforce, and includes some of the fastest growing job categories. Service workers in the metro average $34,241 in wages and salaries, just 39 percent of what creative class members make. 

Across the New York metro, the service class makes up more than half of all residents in 1,635 tracts (37.5 percent) and more than two-thirds of residents in 197 (4.5 percent).

Top 10 Service Class Locations in New York Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Service Class Share
Sheepshead Bay-Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn (572) 89.1%
Flatlands/Canarsie, Brooklyn (944.02) 88.4%
East New York, Brooklyn (1214) 85.3%
East New York Part B, Brooklyn (1144) 84.8%
East New York Part B, Brooklyn (1134) 83.6%
Brookville, Long Island (9811) 83.6%
Bedford/Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (259.02) 81.7%
East New York Part A, Brooklyn (1150) 81.6%
North Riverdale/Fieldston, Bronx (319) 81.5%
East New York Part A, Brooklyn (1110) 81.4%
Metro Average 46.9%

 

The red (service class) and purple (creative class) areas are much larger than the working class areas and also quite distinct from one another. For all the talk of affluent, upper-class suburbs, the creative class is located closer in toward the center city, while lower-paid service class neighborhoods are situated towards the outer boroughs of New York City and the comparative hinterlands of Long Island, as well as coastal and northwest New Jersey. As the table above shows, the leading service class locations — where more than 80 percent of residents hold service class jobs, compared to an average of 46.9 percent for the metro — are in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Long Island.

Top 10 Working Class Locations in New York Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Working Class Share
Passaic, New Jersey (1753.01) 63.0%
Paterson, New Jersey (1828) 62.7%
Passaic, New Jersey (1752) 60.3%
North Ironbound/Newark, New Jersey (70) 58.7%
Passaic, New Jersey (1753.02) 57.3%
Paterson, New Jersey (1822) 57.1%
Newark, New Jersey (76) 56.7%
Passaic, New Jersey (1759) 55.3%
Plainfield, New Jersey (393) 54.8%
Newark, New Jersey (72) 54.7%
Metro Average 17.2%

 

Most striking is the extent to which the working class has disappeared from the region’s geography. The working class includes workers who hold factory jobs, or work in transportation and construction. It comprises 16 percent of the region's workers, who average $43,723 in wages and salaries.

There are just 17 tracts — less than one-half of one percent of the tracts in the metro — where the working class accounts for more than half of all residents. Conversely, there are more than 1,000 tracts — more than one in five — where the working class accounts for 10 percent or fewer residents, and 366 tracts (8.4 percent) where the working class represents five percent or less of all residents.

Just a few speckles of blue on the map can be seen in and around Newark and Elizabeth, with some in Paterson and Passaic as well. This is startling in a region that had a huge manufacturing base and working class population less than half a century ago.

The second map (above) zooms into the class geography of New York City proper. Again, the divides along class lines are sharp.

The purple creative class areas are concentrated in Manhattan, all the way from the southern tip of the Financial District through Tribeca, SoHo, the Village, Chelsea, Midtown, and the Upper East and West Sides. The service class is again pushed further outward, with a small pocket on the Lower East Side, and then north in Harlem, Morningside Heights and Washington Heights, and Inwood.

For all the talk of gentrification in Brooklyn, it is confined almost completely to Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill, Dumbo, and Park Slope, adjacent to lower Manhattan. Most of the borough is red, home to a large service class, with a smattering of blue in neighborhoods like Bensonhurst, Sunset Park, Coney Island, Flatbush, East New York, and Marine Park, where significant numbers of working class people still live.

The service class predominates in Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. With the exception of solidly purple Riverdale, the Bronx is almost completely red. Queens is solidly red, with a small line of working-class blue in neighborhoods like Elmhurst and in the Rockaways as well as purple splotches marking relatively affluent neighborhoods like Forest Hills. The purple area in Staten Island is not as big as it seems; though the area near the Staten Island mall includes some expensive houses, much of it is wetlands and park. The same goes for the big purple patch in Brooklyn's Jamaica Bay, which is largely unpopulated, and Manhattan's Central Park.

What gives cities their special economic and cultural energy is their diversity of people and economic functions — the way they push people of different ethnicities, incomes, cultures, races, educations, and interests into close proximity, enabling them to interact and combine and recombine in unique and powerful ways. While our cities may be increasingly diverse in terms of nationality, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, they are becoming ever-more divided by class. These mounting divides threaten both their underlying economic dynamism and potentially their social and political stability as well.

I’ll have much more to say about this in future posts, as I continue to track this new geography of class. Next week, I'll take a look at the second-largest U.S. metro, Los Angeles.

Keywords: New York, Class, Geography

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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