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February 27, 2005

Ah, the liberal New York Times

Pardon me while I retch. [NYT permalink.]


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Ok, I know I'm probably going to disgust you by asking this but I'm too curious not to. What's with the title of the entry? It seems that you're implying that this article is evidence that the NYT isn't liberal. But the article is in the Fashion and Style section. It isn't supposed to be serious news, right?

What's wrong with trying to do your best?

I think I heard a lone violin playing in the background as I read about the trials and tribulations of those po' folk. It was considerate, however, for the Times to dedicate a couple of sentences to the other 92.5% of NYC's population...

One of the many reasons I prefer the WaPo to the NYT is that the latter--esp. the Sunday edition--is packed with stories and advertisements about truly nauseating levels of opulence. I remember a story from last summer about home owners who hired people to "sit" their houses in the Hampdens so that the owners' pets could stay there through the middle of the week instead of returning to Manhattan (where the owners work (or "work")) where they (the pets) would be unhappy. The pictures of little froo-froo dogs with bows in their fur lounging by the pool was just too much for me.

Nothing's wrong with doing your best. If you can get paid 200 grand a year to do your best, mazel tov. I think it's pretty illiberal to be denigrating the achievements of the 99% of New Yorkers who do their best without making nearly that kind of money.

The theme is that a mere six figure income is peanuts in this town, and not just because of inflation or the skyrocketing cost of housing. According to the article you really need an extra $30,000 real dollars in disposable income per year in order to be considered "a player" in NYC today than you did 20 years ago.

At the risk of being seen by you as one of those elitist money-grubbers, I'm not sure what the big deal is here, and I'm not sure how the article you cited "denigrates" anyone. I just don't see it, I'm afraid.

New York is a ridiculously expensive place to live, and over the last decade the cost of housing there has been going up far faster than the rate of general inflation. Amazingly, it's still going up, even though the economy is nowhere near as robust as it was in the late 1990's. When decent places to live in Manhattan are easily $1 million and more (all too often, much more, $100,000 a year suddenly isn't all that much money if you want to own a place of your own. Most mortgage companies won't finance more than 3-4 times a person's yearly income. The cost of real estate alone could easily mean an additional $30,000 a year in addition to inflation to live as comfortably as one could live 20 years ago on $100,000 a year. As for the "player" part, well, New York has always attracted status-conscious social climbers, who tend to judge people more on the money they make, the cars they drive, and the clothes they wear. These status-conscious climbers are certainly not limited to the conservative Wall Street types, either. (Heck, a friend of mine who lived in NYC for a few years in the late 1980's complained regularly that he had trouble finding a girlfriend who wouldn't dismiss him rather quickly because his income and his material possessions were only upper middle class.) Why is it news now that perhaps the price of status has gone up by $30,000 a year?

Perhaps I'm just older and more jaded than you are, such that an article like this doesn't even cause a blip on my outrage meter.

In any event, I can't imagine what it would be like to be a member of the working poor and trying to live in Manhattan, or even in the other four boroughs. A story on that would be interesting. I don't know how the working poor in Manhattan does it.

Is it somehow anti-liberal to note that $100, 000 a year doesn't make NY fat city anymore? This is simply how it is. Is the NY Times supposed to be embarassed about publishing this obvious fact?

I live in a coastal town about an hour's drive from Boston, and it's true that the rents are ridiculous here. Half of our income goes to paying rent. While I understand why you'd want to retch over an article talking about people who make six figures, the cost of living in or near Boston really is ridiculous. You do need to make a higher-than-average salary to just get by around here.

New York is expensive, but it's outrageous to argue that for single childless professionals "the good life" begins at $200,000 per annum. The Times' definition of the good life includes an absurd level of conspicuous consumption.

I like to think that I well as a single professional in NYC on a mid five figure salary. Compared to that of most people on the planet, my life is unimaginably luxurious. Nobody should feel deprived making $100k/year. The NYT is playing sick mind games when it tries to convince its privileged readers that they really aren't that well off after all.

Why is it news now that perhaps the price of status has gone up by $30,000 a year?

It's not news but it underscores the income polarization of our society--even compared to the high flying 1980's.

Brother, won't you spare a million dimes?

Is there an award for most navel-gazing article? There should be. The article talks about how today, people drink lattes and use Ipods like they're necessary items.

I loved it. It was just as amusing in its cluelessness as the article ( over at Crooker Timber ) where the NYT talks about the Numa Numa guy.

The Heretik lived on the Upper West Side when it was cheap(?)relative, East Village and Alphabet City when there were more junkies than trendoids, way before there were hipsters. Midtown on West 48th for $215 for a studio, Greenpoint and Williamsburg before they turned the Polish dining halls into joints like Warsaw and you could get a ten cent beer in bar that has its doorway in the corner. Oh, throw in Park Slope and some time on Mercer just above Broome. That doesn't count the sublets.

In everyone of these instances The Heretik was just a dirtbag with a word or two to say. Just a step ahead of the gentry riding in on the four horses scheduled for other use at the apocalypse. Meanwhile, The Heretik's brother went working for The Man, making the mega dollar and living next to that name and that name. Now The Heretik is far from the cauldron of Manhattan working his desk at the mouth of hell.

And The Heretik brother is thinking about moving out to Greenpoint, cuz Manhattan Avenue looks mucho mas barrato, mas cheapero que la ciudad Manhattan.

Oy, can I say oy?

The only people that can afford to live in Manhatan are poor people, people poor in dollars and if lucky rich in spirit. Or people rich in dollars, but poor in spirit. The poor could give an F about the rich and rich don't even think about the poor. Manhattan, most democratic voting of counties (where for some reason it is known as New York County) is the most economically stratified burg in the country. Top down , dog eat dog, eat a load of crap, tough luck, baby, you're out of luck!

(Pause, breathe)

A harsh generalization that might apply to a harsh reality. Perhaps.

Note to Heretik self: See doc about dose on scrip.

Well, if the "good life" includes the ability to purchase a decent roof over one's head, $200,000 will indeed be about what it takes, given that the median price of purchasing an apartment in Manhattan just hit $1,000,000 last year (as reported by the NYT several months ago, natch) and that mortgage companies generally don't want to finance more than around 3-4 times one's annual income. In fact, using one loan calculator, I figured that the most a person making $200,000 a year is likely to be able to finance at a rate of 6% on a 30 year mortgage is around $600,000.

Of course, many are content to rent, but even then, it wouldn't be too difficult to end up spending half one's take-home pay on rent alone in Manhattan, even at $200,000. I first discovered that money doesn't go as far as I thought it would when I lived in Chicago in the late 1990's, when real estate prices were skyrocketing. Between my wife and me, we made probably mid- to high five figures. It didn't go very far, and we did not live an extravagent lifestyle, either.

Personally, I just found this article to be little more than a puff piece that in essence didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. I still don't see how the article is "denigrating" anyone, and certainly not people making less than $100,000 a year. In fact, I interpreted it as having a few mild digs at the well-off who don't consider themselves to have "made it" unless they make $200,000 a year.

Hi Heretik: I'm on West 49th in ever-more-trendy Hell's Kitchen...and only able to remain here thanks to rent stabilization. I don't have to tell you that the very tiniest studios around here are going for about 6 times what you paid back in the day.

I like to think that I well as a single professional in NYC on a mid five figure salary. Compared to that of most people on the planet, my life is unimaginably luxurious.

That's the crux of it, isn't it? I mean, my partner & I put together make just under the magical six-figure mark, and I think we have a pretty damn good life. I realize that a lot of Americans would see our material circumstances as positively third-world: we live in a 4-room apartment and don't own a car or a washing machine or a dishwasher or many of the other things that make life worth living. On the other hand, we live better than, what...90%? 95%? 99.9%? of the world's population, and we do our damnedest to remember that anytime we feel compelled to bitch about our lives.

Real estate prices are, indeed, laughably high. As I said, hubby & I only manage to stay in Manhattan because of the rent laws; when we're ready to buy a place, there's no question that we'll have to leave "the city" for the outer boroughs. But before I go begging for anybody's sympathy on that count, I remind myself that for many people in this city, the real estate crisis can mean the difference between having a roof over one's head and living out of a box, or between paying the rent and feeding one's children. I would think that that's a little more worthy of journalistic attention than the fact that Muffy can't buy her favorite bottled water anymore because she's paying 3 grand a month for her doorman-building studio on the Upper East Side.


Considering the minimum wage in New York is still $5.15 an hour, and there are countless people trying to support their families on those sub-subsistance wages, an article about how a $100,000 salary isn't what it used to be is seems a wee bit, well, tacky.

Of course, many are content to rent, but even then, it wouldn't be too difficult to end up spending half one's take-home pay on rent alone in Manhattan, even at $200,000.

Oh come now. That would be over $8300 a month in rent. If someone chooses to squander that kind of money on rent at some lavish Park Avenue address instead of putting it aside for a down payment, fine, but don't expect me to have much sympathy for them.

A double oy. Don't let any meshuga make you feel like putz. Bagels? I see bagels everywhere, but where can I get a good bialy? Hell's Kitchen (aka Clinton as in DeWitt, not Hillary or Bill) was always a friendly place whenever I would get back there.

Don't let no nobody tell you NYC isn't a small town, it's a bunch of small towns cobbled together like River Avenue used to be outside Yankee Stadium. Short story: I walk into the Olympic Diner between 48 and 49th on Eigth (still there?). After the five years and yasous all all around, the guy behind the counter calls me by name and asks me, where you been? A number one, top of the heap, these little town blues . . .

Just a schlimiel.

I wonder how much the reporter who wrote that article makes per year. I'd guess nowhere close to $100K, much less $200K.

I wonder how it felt to write that article.

Hi Orac,

Allow me to submit a preemptive apology -- I should read more carefully. "Take-home pay" is different from "base salary." My bad.

However, that still puts our hypothetical single $200,000/year salaryman in the $4000+/month rent category and so I think my basic point stands. Mr. Salaryman could live like a king in Park Slope or Cobble Hill for half that, and put the other $2000/mo. away for a down payment.

Not to mention that Mr. $200,000 Salaryman is going to have significant investment income as well.

Tacky is one thing. Perhaps you're right there. But I just don't get all that outraged by tackiness.

I also made a minor mistake, which you caught. I meant to refer to someone making $100,000 a year spending half his/her take-home income on rent. That is definitely easily possible in Manhattan without having to invoke an address on Park Avenue. However, your use of gross monthly income rather than after-tax income isn't realistic in terms of figuring out what a person can afford. If someone making $100,000 year grosses $8,333 a month and takes home around $5,700 a month after taxes (it may even be less than that, given the city tax), it is indeed very easy for that person to spend half of his/her income on just an OK apartment or even a not so great apartment. (Have you seen a really nice apartment in NYC recently for less than $2,850 that wasn't rent-controlled? Studios and one bedrooms go for that.) In fact, double the salary to $200,000, and you're talking a take-home pay of probably around $11,000. Very nice change indeed if you can get it, but one person in the article had a monthly rent of $4,650 living near Columbus Circle. Not a bad neighborhood, but not Park Avenue.

Look, I'm not arguing that we should have sympathy for these people because of their "plight" of not making $200,000 a year. I'm really not, although I realize in retrospect that it may have sounded that way. I'm merely pointing out that it is not as ludicrous as you make it sound to acknowledge that a person making $100,000 a year in NYC is not affluent, given the ridiculously high real estate costs there. In NYC, $100,000 a year probably buys entry to the upper middle class. Barely. Will someone making $100,000 be comfortable in NYC? Certainly. But really well off? No, at least not in NYC. In Alabama, where (as the article points out) $100,000 is "country club" income, definitely, but not in NYC.

Also, one minor quibble which the annoying "Jeopardy"-like guy in me can't resist: The minimum wage in New York is not $5.15, but rather $6.00/hr. (See here.) It's slated to go up to $6.75 next year and $7.15 the year after. That's obviously still pathetically low wages. I have no idea how one could live on that, even in Ohio or Michigan, where I spent most of my life, much less in a city like New York.

I feel like an anthropologist viewing a completely alien society in the wilds of Cameroon! I live extraordinarily well, here in our rural fastness, on a small fraction of the annual sums here discussed. I can afford to buy whatever I like, pay no rent, have no debt, and travel often. Right now I'm taking a few months off to write and build musical instruments in my shop.

Then again, I worked nearly full-time building the timber-frame house we live in. It took four-and-one-half years. How many years of your life will go towards housing? My kids were unusually intelligent and we faced little to no educational expenses.

Just my two cents, from a removed-from-society perspective!


1. I think median in Manhattan is above 50K. In Alabama, 100K would put a person in the top couple percent, maybe top 1 percent, for the State. The national figures quoted up front were meaningless.

2. No matter how much people have, they want more. Millionaires think one more million will save them. 10x millionaires think they need many more millions to be "secure," too.

Have you seen a really nice apartment in NYC recently for less than $2,850 that wasn't rent-controlled?

Well, yeah. Ours. [grin] (And it's substantially less than $2850. Of course, we don't live in Manhattan, but who does?)

a person making $100,000 a year in NYC is not affluent

I have to disagree, unless you are defining "affluent" as "top 2%." Part of the problem is that the top 2% in NYC is several orders of magnitude above everyone else. Someone making $100,000 a year in New York is obviously not going to be keeping up with the Hiltons and the Trumps, but that salary still places them in the top 7.5% for NYC -- and, in all seriousness, that's more than enough to take advantage of almost everything the city has to offer.

The minimum wage in New York is not $5.15, but rather $6.00/hr.

You're right, and I stand corrected. (In my defense, it's only been $6.00/hr since Jan. 1 of this year.)

It's slated to go up to $6.75 next year and $7.15 the year after. That's obviously still pathetically low wages.

Absolutely, and literally millions of people in NYC make only the minimum wage.

I'm sure that living in NYC is expensive, but there are ways to live inexpensively if that is your desire. The people who are being described in this article clearly do not desire to live inexpensively or, as my parents used to say, 'within their means'. They want their means to expand to support their desires.

I don't know exactly what Lindsay had in mind here, but it seems to me that this sort of thing denigrates work. Very Gilded-Age.

One of the principal attractions of life in Manhattan is, ahem, the abundance of things to do, some of which are cheap, many of which are quite expensive. Some of the expensive things can be gamed a bit, but that involves expensive time-for-money trades. Another expense of life in Manhattan is paying to save time. While it's possible to live a Spartan life in New York (or anywhere), it does seem somewhat self-punishing to me to go without in this great bazaar. Manhattan is a rich place, unfortunately, in every sense of the word.

As for the offending article, it would have been a different piece altogether, I suspect, if it had been written for the Times's City Section. Styles is all id all the time: check your sense of decency at the door!

Hi Lindsay,

I see your point, but - like Orac - my first reaction was not shock or offense.

Reading your post reminded me of my mother's reaction to news coverage of American troops storming one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Bagdad and discovering gold-plated toilets. Of course, there was much tsk-tsking of Saddam's life of luxury at the expense of his people, but my mother's feeling was that we have plenty of overindulgence - at the expense of others, albeit less directly - here in the United States.

- graefix

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