NEW YORK CITY — Manhattan’s income gap now rivals many third-world nations — but Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn’t mind.
“That’s not a measure of something we should be ashamed of,” Bloomberg told reporters at a press conference on Staten Island Thursday, when asked about new census data out last week.
The latest numbers show the gap between the city’s rich and poor is on the rise, with the median income for the bottom fifth of New Yorkers down to less than $9,000 in 2011, while the top fifth of households made a median $200,000.
The disparity was even starker in Manhattan, where the top-fifth earners took in nearly $400,000, versus less than $10,000 for those in the bottom fifth — meaning the wealthiest residents now make more than 40 times as much as those on the bottom rung. That's on par with many Sub-Saharan African nations, the New York Times noted.
Bloomberg, however, dismissed the criticism and said there's nothing wrong with the city's uber-rich.
“Those comparisons are about as meaningless a set of numbers as you can come up with,” he said, noting that the city had “tried very hard” to lure wealthy people from around the nation to boost tax revenue.
“The last time a government tried to have everybody have the same level of income, it didn’t work out very well," he said.
Instead, Bloomberg said what's needed is better education and more jobs at every level.
“What we really have here is... a gap in education,” he said.
First, notice how he accuses anybody who complains about the income gap of being closet Communists with his "The last time a government tried to have the same level of income, it didn't work out very well" straw man argument.
That is of course not what people are trying to do by pointing out that the gap between the top 1% and the rest of us is growing bigger by the year, but the gap between the bottom of the 99% and the top of the 1% has grown so large that NYC now has the same level of income gap as many Sub-Saharan African nations.
It's scary that New York City is owned, er, run by an oligarch mayor so out of touch with ordinary folks that he can't see how unsustainable this is - that we cannot continue to have the top 1% squeezing everybody else the way they have over the last 30 years.
Second, notice how Bloomberg dismisses the issue of poor people anyway, saying we want more rich people in the city because they're the ones that pay taxes. I think we can dispute just how much rich people, or rich corporations, or rich non-profits like Bloomberg's own, actually pay taxes here and how many plant their money in offshore havens (like Bloomberg's philanthropy foundation), but the point is not really about needing more rich people to pay taxes. The point of the problem is that there are so many poor people in this city, more by the year, and the mayor just doesn't care about that.
Third, you can see that when the mayor does get around to acknowledge that there just might be an income gap in the city that is a mite too large, he blames it on schools and teachers by saying that it's not an income gap, it's an education gap.
You see, if those lazy teachers would just work harder, NYC children would be getting a better education. Those same NYC children would then be able to get better jobs, make more money and everybody would be happy.
Except that as John Judis points out in The New Republic, that story about educating our way out of the income gap is jive - it's just not accurate:
If you listen to education reformers, you would imagine that there is a huge demand for highly educated workers at the top that the lower tier schools are not meeting, but that is not the case. In employment projections to 2020, C. Brett Lockard and Michael Wolf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics list the thirty occupations that are projected to have the large numeric growth between 2010 and 2020. Of the top ten jobs, only one--postsecondary teachers--would require a doctoral or professional degree; one--registered nurse--would require an associate’s degree; and the rest--and that includes retail salespersons, home health aides, food preparer and servers, and office clerks--would require a high school diploma or less. Of the top thiry occupations, only seven would require more than a high school degree.
If you look at the current flaccid recovery, the greatest increase in private sector jobs over the last year has been in food services and drinking places, where 298,000 jobs were added. According to the BLS, these jobs require “less than high school” and have a median annual wage, as of May 2010, of $17,950. In his speech at the Democratic convention, Bill Clinton suggested that there was job openings, but that American workers didn’t possess the skills to fill them. Most economists dispute this, including conservative Edward Lazear argued in a paper last month that “neither industrial nor democratic shifts, nor a mismatch of skills with job vacancies can explain movements in unemployment rates over recent years.”
Urban public schools like those in Chicago could definitely do a better job of preparing their students to enter the work force, but in doing so, they won’t, except in unusual cases, be preparing their students to become engineers, doctors or lawyers. And in preparing students to enter the lower rungs of a labor force, the schools will face a constant drag of low expectations that impedes learning. Is it really necessary, these students may ask themselves, to master algebra to be a home health aide? Or to learn American history or be able to write passable prose to be a food server? If the reformers really want to reduce the gap between good schools and bad, that will require taking aim not just at the schools, but at the emerging structure of the American economy, and the expectations it generates in America’s young.
There are people who are more qualified than I am to say what could be done about the economy. But a rudimentary list would include raising dramatically the wage and status of service workers, perhaps by restricting low-wage immigration (which puts downward pressure on wages), subsidizing certain kinds of industries and discouraging others, rehabilitating inner cities and rural areas, making sure, as the Obama administration has tried, that all Americans enjoy a safety net against unforseen illness and unscrupulous speculation, and encouraging the unionization of low tier service workers.
The Third World income gap level the city is experiencing is not primarily an education problem - it is primarily an economic problem.
Bloomberg is emblematic of the problem.
In 2001 when he came into office, he was worth $5 billion.
This year, Forbes estimated his worth at $25 billion.
Meanwhile a Fiscal Policy Institute found the following:
Since the last expansion began in 2003, New York’s per capita GDP has grown more than three times as fast as the U.S. overall. This should have translated into real gains for New York workers. However, by dragging down wages, the Great Recession and its aftermath have widened the gap between the growth in worker productivity and the growth in wages for the average worker. New York workers are not sharing in the prosperity they help create. Since 2000, GDP per worker has grown more than twice as fast as annual average wages (even counting CEO salaries.) Where do the benefits of this high productivity go? Gross operating surplus—the basis for corporate profits—has grown over six times as fast as average wages.
Between the end of World War II and the end of the 1970s, the income share of the wealthiest one percent in the U.S. held steady at 9 or 10 percent. It started rising rapidly around 1980, reaching 23.5 percent in 2007. In New York, the share of income going to the wealthiest one percent rose to 35 percent for the state overall in 2007 and to 44 percent in New York City. The wealthiest one percent of New York State households had an average income in 2007 that was 50 times the average for all households earning from $25,000 to $120,000.
The wealth is being sucked up by the criminals on Wall Street, the criminals in the corporations, and oligarchs like Bloomberg.
He likes to blame unionized teachers and unionized schools for the income gap.
But the real culprit is people like Bloomberg.
No wonder he's trying to divert attention to schools and "bad teachers".
Now wonder he sent his "personal army" - the NYPD - to destroy the Occupy Wall Street encampments and harass protestors wherever they go.
No wonder New York City has a police force so large and so militarized that it rivals the armies of Third World nations (and even the FBI.)
When you run a city with an income gap at Third World nation levels, you need a police force standing at the ready to take care of any opposition.