Affordable NYC

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A new study claims that New York City is a bargain -- for those making around $100,000 a year. Catherine Rampell, New York Times economics reporter, talks about how New York can be cheaper than other cities and suburbs and for whom. 


Catherine Rampell

Comments [45]

davie from New Jersey

If one can put up with the noise, congestion, pollution, crime, and high costs of almost everything compared to the suburbs this is ideal.

Apr. 25 2013 08:59 AM
Cynthea from Queens

Brian and Catherine: I am embarrassed by this piece. I wholeheartedly agree with Elsie (one of the very first commenters on this article). It is not the reporting or the truth I am embarrassed by, it is how out of touch you are with your listening audience. Really? There is a way to tell this story without it being judgmental, rather than biased. I felt judged. I felt put down (and my husband and I have combined incomes over $100,000).

Catherine was so "surprised" that the caller knew the price of lamb: $7.99 on the East Side and $14.99 on the West Side. Catherine - your surprise is "the tell." OF COURSE she knows the price of lamb, because the price matters to her. She pays attention to the price because she pays attention to where her money goes, probably because she needs to. I know you Catherine (and Brian) - when you buy lamb, you buy lamb. No matter the cost, and when it is "expensive" you say, "Oh, wow. I guess the price of that went up this week. OK. Oh well." Or, you might not even pay attention. But it doesn't hurt your bottom line and you don't worry about it being decadent or a splurge. It's just how you live.

I'm looking forward to reading the entire piece, but honestly Brian and Catherine, learn how to be unbiased reporters and not alienate all of us poor folk out here.

I have not heard a piece on NYC that has pissed me off this much, in a long time. Possibly ever. This was disgusting.

Apr. 24 2013 08:12 PM
Sandra from Forest Hills, Queens

I absolutely disagree. Making 100k a year is by no means rich in NYC! It's actually pretty middle class for NYC living. I live in Queens and I do have some variety in my grocery options and I don't see the competition impacting price as claimed. Simultaneously, I recognize that the poor have it even harder to meet their costs. Although this is just my experience, I know many other families in my circumstances who share similar sentiments.

Apr. 24 2013 05:00 PM

To Elsie from Brooklyn and many of the others who complained about the article:

I printed out the article and read it over lunch. Not only do I not agree with the complaints that the author showed class bias (are economists NOT allowed to study the habits of the wealthy?), but I also took away that the author was making many of the same points that the critics here tried to make. Only, this writer backed up her remarks with facts.

What she pointed out was that, while NYC is a pretty good deal for high earners, lower-paid wage earners get a correspondingly worse deal.

I'd recommend that you read her piece again (or for the first time).

Apr. 24 2013 01:18 PM

oh i guess it should have been written this way-
Uh, jgarbuz-- politicians HAVE intervened to upset normal market forces -- it's called Our System, ie the thing we have instead of Capitalism and Democracy.

ps nonsensical -- in a debate, isn't that the word you use to say, i'm too dumb to be having this debate? you seem smart, use your words.

>>jgarbuz from Queens
>There is no such thing as low income people. There are underpaid people.<

Nonsensical MARXIST argument. The wages of workers, like everything else, is determined by supply and demand, unless the politicians intervene to upset normal market forces.<<

Apr. 24 2013 12:58 PM
Mom of Ten from Mount Vernon, NY

Robert, you say, "And you ask why do families drink sugary sodas and the cheaper ones at that it's because it's what they can afford. You can get a 2 quart bottle of soda for the price you pay for a 6oz bottle of many of these "healthier" drinks. Check it out for yourself."

My answer to you is this: Drink water! It's practically FREE!!!! My family (of 12) is not poor by any means, but we do not buy fancy drinks, nor would we ever waste our money on sugary drinks like soda, or Kool-Aid, or any other junk-filled beverage. Nobody is "forced" to drink poison because that's all they can afford! Get real! Sugar is cheap! That's why those drinks are cheap. If you want a healthier alternative, save your money, don't buy the garbage-y drinks, and treat yourself once in a while. But stop complaining, please! Nobody "needs" to drink anything except water. Soda should be considered a luxury, even for the poor.

Apr. 24 2013 11:45 AM
raphael from Brooklyn

In some senses, it has to be said that Ms. Rampell couldn't be more incorrect, or her perspective more jaundiced. As Brian partly acknowledged, the notion that rent stabilization policies are hampering a privatized solution to rising housing costs -- such as more development -- is reminiscent of other trickle-down and laisez-faire ideas. And why apply this mentality to New York City? Furthermore, her dichotomous perspective of "rich" and "poor" misses pretty much the major components of New York City life that can be celebrated -- the potentiality of small businesses to sell across markets in a city that mixes people amongst each other. The notion that businesses in this setting largely target either rich or poor is off-point and not fully researched; but certainly, journalists often do choose one of these groups to attempt to appeal to. Also notably, her contextualization the large number of basically middle class people the move here from elsewhere to strive with or without great financial reward, and to experience urban life. It's these in-between groups and in-between experiences that are constantly energizing the city.

Apr. 24 2013 11:40 AM

More data indicating it's not so great to be poor???


Apr. 24 2013 11:35 AM
unpublic from nyc

So the NYT is skewed towards their "better off" readers - according this snooty reporter "economist."
How is the nyt any different than fox news or msnbc who cater their own viewers demographics? Is this what passes for journalism on wnyc these days?

Apr. 24 2013 11:35 AM

For someone who writes for the Times this is embarrassing English grammar/speech. And I heard some ludicrous things - I think this is a clueless economist from the ivory tower. Maybe she has a trust fund, too, and so very little awareness of the world around her. It's not all data! I do agree about that arrogant grocery store oaf who wants to be mayor.

Apr. 24 2013 11:35 AM
Burtnor from Manhattan

Nonsense re need for skyscrapers to increase affordable housing. (Brian: this discussion would make a good segment.)

In the first place, high rises are almost invariably luxury housing.

In the second, see:
Population density in Paris (with nearly all low rise neighborhoods) is actually higher than in NY, London, or Singapore. See charts "World's Population, Concentrated" and great photos and discussion and comments (including that below):

Comment by: Zane Selvans from Boulder, CO
While the skyscraper canyons of Hong Kong and lower Manhattan are the canonical vision of "density", there are actually many different ways to put lots of people in close proximity to each other.

It may seem incredible, but Paris actually has a higher population density than Hong Kong, despite having a strictly enforced building height limit of 7-9 stories. The difference is that the entirety of Paris is built to that height, while Hong Kong has lots of empty spaces between their towers, and some areas of much lower density as well. We can build livable megacities if we want to. At Paris' density of ~20,000 people per km^2, a city of 10 million people takes up about 500 km^2, which means that the longest distance between two points in the city, if it's compact, is about 25 km. By bike that's just a bit more than an hour of travel to get from any point to any other point. On decent express service public transit it could be half of that time. And Paris is not an oppressive megalopolis; it's a relatively human-scale city with romantic nooks and crannies to explore. River banks and parks and promenades.

So I think it's a myth that cramming people close together to get all those efficiencies that cities are so good at necessarily means a degradation of livability. Check out Jan Gehl's book Cities for People and Andreas Dalsgaard's film The Human Scale for further exploration.

Apr. 10 2013 05:11 PM

Apr. 24 2013 11:34 AM

>>jgarbuz from Queens
>There is no such thing as low income people. There are underpaid people.<

Nonsensical MARXIST argument. The wages of workers, like everything else, is determined by supply and demand, unless the politicians intervene to upset normal market forces.<<

Uh, jgarbuz-- politicians HAVE intervened to upset normal market forces -- it's called Our System, ie the thing we have instead of Capitalism and Democracy.

Apr. 24 2013 11:34 AM

"Housing prices are so high because the city is built out and zoning restricts construction so deeply."

How old is this person? Investors make lifetimes of good livings by purchasing "built out" real estate, with the assumption that zoning is loose or corrupt enough to allow a nice small building to be rebuilt into a terrible monstrosity -- look no further than The Upper East Side or Chinatown. Anybody who's been to Shanghai (including hundreds of thousands of Chinese investors!) or another city that dwarfs NYC understands that NYC is barely built at all -- it is practically an empty lot.

Of course, so long as NYC real estate and the US dollar remain two safe global investments, every apartment in the city will be filled with rich buyers from crappier nations.

Apr. 24 2013 11:30 AM

...right. A non story.

Apr. 24 2013 11:29 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

I am shocked, SHOCKED, to find that the world is skewed in favor of the rich and powerful!

Apr. 24 2013 11:29 AM

Oh now she just totally pissed me off about who she thinks her readership is -- I guess she must think that because our family is below her $100,000 cutoff we don't read the NY Times.

Apr. 24 2013 11:29 AM
Amy from Manhattan

To the caller who compared bottled water prices: So don't buy bottled water in the 1st place! Especially in NYC, which has great tap water. Just keep refilling the last bottle you bought & take it with you. It'll save you a lot of money too, & it's much better for the environment.

Apr. 24 2013 11:27 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

Trader Joe's has national pricing and is, therefore, very cheap here. I always find that produce is much, much more expensive outside NY.
When my mother was alive, whenever she visited she bought several jars of instant coffee because it was cheaper here in Chelsea then in her Bethesda, MD supermarket.

Apr. 24 2013 11:27 AM
JR from NYC

When I questioned a price discrepancy at the Whole Foods Tribeca (vs. the Union Sq. store) of something I was purchasing was more expensive there because rent was higher in that location.

Apr. 24 2013 11:26 AM

I'm wondering what Catherine Rampell's analysis found on how this phenomena has affected middle class families. As a member of said class, I feel particularly squeezed because almost every product/service in New York is either geared towards the wealthy (i.e. high end boutique grocery shops like Gourmet Garage) or the poor (i.e. ghetto grocers like Western Beef). You're either paying through the nose at one or hoping there aren't roaches in the produce at the other.

Apr. 24 2013 11:24 AM
Robert from NYC

Well if you are doing a report like this then you should be doing what this caller did. Exactly the point Elsie was making, you in the media with your 6+ figure salaries are out of touch with the customers you attempt to report on.

Apr. 24 2013 11:22 AM
Fishmael from NYC

or actually the more meaningful measurement would be percentage of the overall NYC population, by income bracket - since the grotesquely high compensation or inherited income of the top bracket will skew the numbers incredibly.

Apr. 24 2013 11:20 AM
Robert from NYC

And you ask why do families drink sugary sodas and the cheaper ones at that it's because it's what they can afford. You can get a 2 quart bottle of soda for the price you pay for a 6oz bottle of many of these "healthier" drinks. Check it out for yourself.

Apr. 24 2013 11:20 AM

The last caller just explained the "Amy's Frozen Pizzafication" of formerly beloved bodegas!

Apr. 24 2013 11:20 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

>There is no such thing as low income people. There are underpaid people.<

Nonsensical MARXIST argument. The wages of workers, like everything else, is determined by supply and demand, unless the politicians intervene to upset normal market forces.

Apr. 24 2013 11:20 AM
lizzy from nyc

Anyone else think this woman sounds like Lena Dunham? It's throwing me off. . .

Apr. 24 2013 11:20 AM

I don't think it's necessarily true that the average working-class person makes more money in NYC than their counterparts in the rest of the country who are doing the same jobs thanks to the higher cost of living. When I moved to NYC from VA I was working at a big box retailer, and my hourly pay was the same. I can attest that $8.50 an hour goes a lot farther in southern VA than it does here!

Apr. 24 2013 11:19 AM
Robert from NYC

COL is baloney. It's interesting that one of the items they want to cut in SS is the COLA which this year was 1%!! First of all 1% is way below the COL which itself is lower that what is the real COL by actual life standards and they want to cut the 1%!!!!!!!! It's all baloney and unrealistic. I have no idea what it's based on.

Apr. 24 2013 11:18 AM

Everything everywhere is "cheaper" for the rich. And, yes, the title of this segment is the epitome of an oxymoron.

Apr. 24 2013 11:18 AM
Fishmael from NYC

Wait - did your guest say that NYC's population "skews more wealthy"?

Do the facts bear that out? I've seen stats that place the median income in NYC at ca low 30k.... that doesn't seem to make sense.

Apr. 24 2013 11:16 AM

"Low income people should make more money but the problem is it keeps them out of Federal benefits like food stamps."

1. There is no such thing as low income people. There are underpaid people.
2. The problem is not that they don't qualify for food stamps! The problem is that they are not paid enough to eat -- and that nobody (like New York Times reporters, for instance) are doing anything about it.

Apr. 24 2013 11:16 AM
Amy from Manhattan

***Please*** don't perpetuate the image of organic food as something elitist. I'm nowhere near rich, but I buy organic food as much as possible & cook it at home, which keeps cheaper than many processed foods that aren't organic.

Hmm...I wonder if people who buy gluten-free foods even though they don't need them (because they think they have health benefits that they don't) might be helping to limit how expensive they are for people who really do need them?

Apr. 24 2013 11:16 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Yeah, but the question remains, why do most people, ESPECIALLY RICH people, want to live, or at least maintain a domicile, in cities like New York in the first place? Why do so many people want to concentrate themselves into such small, dense places like that rock we call Manhattan for example?
Obviously, such places developed that way in the first place because of certain natural advantages, such as having a nearby deep port, or being more easily defensible due to natural barriers, etc. So as trade developed, many who were trademen, or otherwise not dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, saw it advantageous to live safely close together. That's how we got "civilization" in the first place.

But real estate prices do tend to rise where there is a shortage of land, so generally speaking, over the long run, a property in a dense place like Manhattan should appreciate over time, barring any disasters. So owning a property in such a place is generally a good investment over the long run as long as the place is kept safe. People who do not own property are going to find rents rising, sometimes faster than their wages, and hence will find living there more precarious over time.

Apr. 24 2013 11:15 AM
Henry from Manhattan

I scored a fantastic deal on personally engraved Tiffany’s monocles the other day!

Apr. 24 2013 11:14 AM
Meerkatz from NYC

After a bitter laugh at the title of this segment, I do think there is a point to be made here... When I go to visit family in the Hudson Valley, I find the food prices in "regular" grocery stores are close to the same as down here, and people don't earn the same wages up there. And the products are not necessarily the high choice and quality that I have access to down here...

Apr. 24 2013 11:14 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Another reason NYC is cheap for well-off people (tho I don't know how this compares to other areas) is that, to paraphrase the old cliche, it takes money to save money. If you have the cash on hand to buy a more expensive unlimited metro card, you save more money than someone who only has the cash for 1 fare at a time. If you have the money to buy in bulk at costco, you save more than someone who doesn't have that much cash and must buy 1 item by 1 item.

Apr. 24 2013 11:12 AM

When a huge percentage of New Yorkers spend over _one third_ of their income on rent, some 2 _million_ New Yorkers are on food stamps, and over 9 percent of New Yorkers are still unemployed, the key issue is Rampell makes is how expensive the city is for the 99 percent.

The city's population is actually growing quite slowly compared to other comparable cities (and even many significantly smaller ones). A very important reason is that the city is just too expensive. Worse, the single biggest cost for most people — housing (esp. rent) — _invariably_ increases at a rate greater than the general inflation rate. The real inflation rate for New Yorkers is closer to 3 percent, much higher than wages are growing for average New Yorkers.

Apr. 24 2013 11:10 AM
Colleen from Brooklyn

The first line of the description of this topic had me laughing, a little bitterly, for about five minutes.

Apr. 24 2013 11:09 AM

Fairway used to be the best bargain in the city! Before the Superrich bought the whole dang place -- totally messing with the Rich.

Anyway if you are rich enough you will be comped on everything, so in effect living is free.

Apr. 24 2013 11:09 AM
99% from NYC

I do appreciate the irony of a story about how affordable NYC is for very wealthy New Yorkers, especially when it is being discussed by a Princeton-educated, Florida-raised writer for the New York Times and a public radio show host who earns approximately $200,000 each year.

Talk about out of touch (and offensive as Elsie so rightly observed)!

Apr. 24 2013 10:40 AM
antonio from baySide

This assumes that you're not living in the core right? In the outer-rim (East NY, Little Neck, SI) life may be cheaper but it still adds up. And this can't include healthcare, saving for IRA, Daycare or care for the elderly...
Who wrote this some kid from New York magazine...?

Apr. 24 2013 10:36 AM
Beth from NYC

The term "affordable" is extremely subjective. It depends on exactly which commodities are being compared with other cities. I just came from Toronto where one can buy a condo for $300K or less, food and eating out is inexpensive, but taxes in Canada are high and gas is $5 a gallon.

The other problem with such a discussion is income levels corresponding to housing affordability. Most metro areas around the US and Canada have affordable housing options for every income level. The problem with NYC is there seems to be a push to eliminate housing options for lower income levels. The only available housing seems to be for the highest income levels.

Apr. 24 2013 10:21 AM
Robert from NYC

Elisie from Brooklyn, would you please fun for Mayor? I think lots of us would vote for you. I agree with you 100% here. I have never in these stories about how salaries haven't kept up with cost of living but never, NEVER is ones expenses budget put out there. Yes, if you make eve 40K and pay $1750+ rent, G & E about $100, Telephone(s) 100+, food $200+, clothing, $100+, healthcare and body care products $75+, household cleaning products $75+, transportation $200-$300, inter alia, right there $2700/month that's already more than $34K/annum, bla bla bla, yeah NYC on 40K for one individual ain't nuttin' and most families of more than one have to live off that! Yes Elsie you got that right and our hosts/guests do make 6+ figures, what do they know?

Apr. 24 2013 10:17 AM

on 100k in other cities you could probably afford a modest country house, to get out of town once in a while. in nyc it takes 350k or more. put another way, the middle class life of the 1950s is no longer accessible to the family of the "working man."

100K today will put you in a tenement, literally built for a penniless immigrant (maybe with a fancier icebox). Decent school for your kids? vacations? savings?

On the other hand, city folk compared to their suburban neighbors can save money each month by not owning and maintaining autos ($500-$2K), avoiding some commute costs ($300-500) ... and of course paying a fraction (a tenth?) property tax. None of this means that city folk are better off, necessarily, but at $100 K do have a few more sheckles to throw at restaurants and landlords, plus a extra hour or three per day of time to do it in.

Apr. 24 2013 08:43 AM
Elsie from Brooklyn

This is absolutely offensive. Talk about a media that lives in a bubble. NYC is affordable for people working at the Times and NPR, but this is a slap in the face to the vast majority of the people in the city who are making far less than K100. Does Brian and his guest even know that the vast majority of the people in the city live on less than K40/year? Is this story meant to court people with money for donations? It is common knowledge that NYers pay over double the national average in rent and triple in utilities and food. Really, this story is offensive and points to just how out of touch the media is with reality.

Apr. 24 2013 07:09 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.