DMI Blog

Elana Levin

NYC’s middle class is endangered. It doesn’t have to be.

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The name of DMI's conference Monday co-sponsored with Baruch College is "The American Dream in the Big Apple: Is New York City still a middle-class town?" I've been spreading the word to people and sometimes the name of the conference gets a knowing chuckle along the lines of: "heh, I wish it was a middle class city" and sometimes people get angry saying "of course NYC isn't a middle class town, how do you not know that!"

Well as people who live and work in NYC I can say that we do know that NYC is basically unaffordable to middle class people and certainly to New Yorkers working their way into the middle class. We know that people earning salaries high enough to buy houses in other parts of the country find themselves unable to afford even rent in the city and making even an upper-middle class salary can leave you qualified for some affordable housing set-asides. As the Brookings Institution report has shown, NYC's middle class is disappearing. The point being made at our conference is that things don't have to be this way, things haven't always been this way and there are things that can be done to make NYC a middle class town again. New ideas on this are exactly what we'll be talking about this Monday at Baruch College.

New York used to be the starting place for people setting out to forge their piece of the American Dream. Whether they moved here from the boondocks or Brazil people came to New York to build families and community and through hard work supported by progressive public policy offering the infrastructure to make it possible they worked their way into the middle class.

NYC used to be on the vanguard creating the public policies that made America's middle class possible. Education has always been a route to the middle class and NYC is the birthplace of the first free public university in America, Baruch College (who are the conference co-sponsors). A hundred thousand workers in New York City went on strike demanding, and winning an eight-hour work day wayyy back in 1872. We pioneered the building of affordable housing through the Mitchel-Lama Program. We are one of the first places to pro-actively construct public transit as a means of creating neighborhoods (rather than growing first and building infrastructure as an afterthought). We had the first housing codes to protect residents from dangerous living conditions, which reminds me that we also have one of the first municipal water systems. We created a way for senior citizens to retire financially secure by creating the first Social Security program. All of these policies made a middle class and middle class lifestyle possible in New York for a very long time.

That list is just the tip of the iceberg of NYC's legacy as an incubator for the middle class. There's no reason we can't create policy like that again. New Yorkers are creative. We invented hip-hop, abstract expressionism, salsa and comic books. In that "can do" spirit DMI has invited leading New Yorkers from the private sector to the public sector to the nonprofit sector to share their ideas with us on how to make NYC the place of aspiration and achievement we all celebrate. DMI will be presenting a survey of 100 city leaders offering their ideas for strengthening and expanding the city's middle class at our conference.

That's in addition to hearing from Former Governor Mario Cuomo, New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr., NYC Department of Finance Commissioner Martha Stark, UFT President Randi Weingarten and more!

So now you know why we named our conference that. Keep your eye on the DMI blog for more discussion and video from the conference on Monday April 2, 2007 8:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
Baruch College Conference Center, Newman Vertical Campus
55 Lexington Avenue at 24th Street, 14th Floor

Elana Levin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:39 AM, Mar 29, 2007 in Cities | Economic Opportunity | Economy | Middle-class squeeze | New York
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