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Extreme Island: Inequality in Manhattan

As a New Yorker, the idea of surviving in Manhattan on less than $10,000 a year is pretty much unfathomable. But that's the harsh reality that the poorest fifth of Manhattanites face, according to new data from the New York Times

The wealth gap in this infamous borough is now so large that it rivals rates in notoriously impoverished sub-Saharan Africa: 

In Manhattan. . . the lowest fifth made $9,681, while the highest took home $391,022. The wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites made more than 40 times what the lowest fifth reported, a widening gap (it was 38 times, the year before) surpassed by only a few developing countries, including Namibia and Sierra Leone.

Chronic unemployment is not the only contributing factor. As David R. Jones, the president of the Community Service Society of New York, pointed out in the piece, “the jobs that have been created are really low-wage.” Demos has been pushing to raise awareness about this "job quality crisis," singling it out as a serious and under-reported contributing factor to rising poverty rates. As explained in Demos’ report “Worth Working For: Strategies for Turning Bad Jobs Into Quality Employment”:

Nearly a quarter of working adults find themselves in jobs that do not pay enough to support a family at a minimally acceptable level…During the downturn, 60 percent of U.S. jobs lost were middle-income positions, yet the majority of jobs gained during the recovery have been in low-wage occupations. This downward shift in labor costs has helped drive corporate profits to an all-time high this year, but at an enormous cost to our families’ well-being and to our consumer-driven recovery.

The debate in New York City over raising the minimum wage is just one example of the kind of steps political leaders should be taking to combat poverty. Until we commit to these kinds of measures, we should expect to see the wealth gap continue to widen, and the poorest to suffer all the more.