It Takes 6 Figures to Be Middle Class in New York City

If you can make it here, you really can make it anywhere.

By SHARE

Not everyone's "hearting" New York these days. Stratospheric rents, lengthy commutes, and exorbitant living costs are just some of the culprits driving the middle class out of the Big Apple, according to a study released by the Center for an Urban Future.

A person living in Manhattan needs to earn $123,322 a year to be considered middle class, the equivalent of a $72,772 salary in Boston and a $50,000 salary in Houston, the study says.

America is already facing foreclosures, a rapid decline in housing sales, and massive layoffs. Couple those conditions with the fact that expenses in New York have risen faster than wages, and you've got your mass exodus. The city, of course, has never been cheap, and even when times are good, NYC can hardly support a middle-class lifestyle. About 150,000 residents fled the five boroughs for other locales in 2006, compared with a loss of 141,047 in 1993, when the city was in much worse shape economically, the study says.

New York has always been a city of aspiration. Now it's on the verge of losing that status. Some of the findings shed light on how this happened:

  • The average rent is $2,800, which is 53 percent higher than San Francisco, the second-most expensive city in the country.
  • The average apartment in Manhattan sells for more than $1.4 million (the median price is $900,000). In the third quarter of 2008, only 10.6 percent of housing in the New York City region was affordable to people earning the median area income.
  • New Yorkers pay higher taxes than people in any other major U.S. city, roughly 50 percent more than the average in other cities and nearly triple the U.S. average.
  • Young families that earn less and have little savings are also being hurt. A family of three earning $55,000 a year will have to pay nearly half of that income for early childhood care. Families making $100,000 will often pay more in day-care costs than they do in a monthly mortgage payment or rent.
  • Electricity bills are higher in New York than anywhere in the nation except Hawaii. Residential electricity prices increased by 27 percent between 2002 and 2007.
  • Monthly telephone costs are much higher in New York than in other major cities. A monthly flat-rate telephone bill is $34 in New York, compared with $17.10 in San Francisco.
  • Residents of outer-borough communities, such as Astoria, Ditmas Park, and Canarsie, have some of the longest commutes in the nation. For residents in St. Albans, it takes 51.7 minutes to travel to work.
  • New York residents pay higher prices for milk ($4.08 per gallon) than residents of all other cities except for New Orleans, Minneapolis, Miami, and Kansas City. The national average was $3.82.
  • New York has historically done well in attracting highly educated people, but an increasing number of those with bachelor's degrees—29,370 in 2006 versus 12,955 in 2005—are fleeing the five boroughs.