Current Affairs Economics Health

New York City Rich And Poor – The Inequality Crisis

Here is another excellent documentary on YouTube from the German public service broadcaster DW examining the dreadful inequality between the haves and the have-nots in the United States, focusing on families living at opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum in New York City. Quite frankly I found some of the affluent individuals and attitudes depicted in the programme to be grotesque but you can decide for yourself what you think. I will say that while in general Ireland doesn’t suffer the same disparities in wealth as featured in the US, living on a below average income in a part of Dublin with incomes well above the average the local effects of the Covid-19 crisis have been noticeably different here to what I have witnessed elsewhere in the country. Money might not buy you happiness but it certainly eliminates a lot of the worries in life. Especially at the most extreme of times.

5 comments on “New York City Rich And Poor – The Inequality Crisis

  1. One very persistent trend in North America (going back well before the 1770s). NYC has always had a higher economic inequality than much of the country. Most places with a higher Gini Index have been in The South.

    The other thing is that a lot of people who fell somewhere between the wealth and poverty of the people shown have lost absolutely everything in this pandemic.

    It’s true that on average poor people have taken this worse, but there’s no simplistic income line for it. For one thing a very large fraction of people everywhere on the vast income spectrum between somebody as poor as Emerita Ramone and as rich as the Bickley have either lost everything or are in great danger of losing everything.

    For example one group that is complaining that prisoners were put ahead of them on the CDC’s vaccine priority list: Dentists and Dental Hygienists. The former are professional class, but within that group aren’t well paid and have very high liability. That latter is a common occupation for women seeking to avoid or escape poverty, whether they were born to it or were victims of “feminization of poverty”. Some of them agree that first responders and those working in the Covid-19 wards should be first, but that point out that many doctors in private practice and specialties with minimal hospital visits can often tell their patients to wear masks-They spend a lot of time working in mouths.

    Also many people relying on deliveries are not rich but actually strapped for cash. They rely on them because they are disabled and/or medically at risk. In normal times they could go shopping (even in power wheelchairs), take buses, visit friends, buy food, but now are afraid to do so, even though it has meant tough decisions between sufficient, medicines and medical supplies, home heating, enough to eat, and not having to risk a trip to the store.

    Those are some of many examples of how this situation defies any simple picture.

    When I was in High School studying American History, I remember what my teacher said about The 1930’s Dustbowl and the book “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. She was a wonderful teacher who often used Obi Wan’s discussion with Luke about “point of view” to teach adolescents about complexity and nuance. Most of us had read the book in English class and my father had pushed me to read it a few summers earlier. She said “Grapes of Wrath is a top work of American Literature, but it only tell the Dustbowl from a certain point of view.” She talked about how Steinback’s firm conviction that The Dustbowl was a class issue was not wrong, but taken as the whole story could really underplay and lowbowl the massive ecological disaster that had happened, and the extensive but flawed response of The Federal Government which proved to be not enough.

    The stuff portrayed of “Oakies” losing their farms as rich bankers cut their losses and refugee kids being beaten in school by native Californians, did in fact happen. However, some studies suggest as many as 1/3 of dustbowl migrants may have been professional or white-collar workers. It wasn’t even impossible to find doctors or lawyers who ended up in the migrant camps picking fruit.

    *****If anyone here read that book and felt the behavior of the bankers looks a bit like Famine era landlords, you may be more right than you know. There are plenty of people who argue that the US came frighteningly close to having a regional famine, over the Dustbowl. Despite a whole Federal effort, Sen’s theories about famines just not happening in Democracies with a free press, and the fact that President Hoover was about the furthest thing from a Trevelyan, that luck might have been the biggest factor in avoiding said horrific outcome.

    The same with this pandemic. The people described in the video are not bizarre anomalies, but to portray what is happening as a “class issue” may not do justice to the scale of it.

    That said plans to vaccinate up to 6 or 9 million people a day in the US may come to pass not long after Biden is sworn in….if nothing bad happens. Even Romney, who I didn’t vote for, has floated ideas of looking further for people who can administer Covid-19 shots such as veterinarians, school nurses, combat medics, looking to chemistry labs in various industries for people who can help work cold chains and vaccine prep, and also looking to Red Cross, bus drivers and such for transportation, and even tapping unemployed, housewives and HS kids to do a lot of the leg work, be couriers, lift boxes, direct traffic and more. It’s almost certain that one of the first thing Biden will do is invoke the “Defense Production Act” for not just vaccine production but everything involved in creating them, transporting them, and with stuff such as syringes and alcohol pads.


  2. One take I have on the rich family shown. While the daughters came across as rather shallow and immature for their age, my hunch about the Dad is that he was raised working or lower middle class. Not from a deprived environment, but definitely somebody who had to be upwardly mobile to afford a place in the Hamptons.

    They are safer than most New Yorkers from the pandemic. However, it seemed very likely to me that the father’s business may be in trouble but not from protests to welfare cuts, higher taxeor even more aggressive economic leveling. Mostly he was invested in Crocs and Natura. From what I’ve seen of stores and buying in the US during this pandemic Natura doesn’t strike me as the kind of brand that would prosper if the pandemic drags on and/or leads to a Great Depression. Natura is largely hand cream and skin care. It’s not the most the expensive stuff by a long shot, but it’s not “heavy duty” relative to its price.

    In a pandemic defined by a mix of both tight funds and a life dominating by scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing everything brands like Natura would not hold up well against things like Eucerin, or vaseline intensive with cocoa butter..where if you aren’t going to stick with the cheapest stuff you are going for “heavy duty” moisturizing!!!

    It could be that the girls are being allowed by their father to do that fashion influencing even in the pandemic because he is wondering how whether Natura will even survive if this drags on.

    That would be my guess on what they might not have quite “put on the table” during the doc, and what the German doc crew wasn’t picking up on.


    • Whatever happens I doubt the family will ever have to worry with homes in NYC and upstate and God knows what other assets or funds available to them.

      The daughters were obnoxious. Like, late 20s and that childish? They were infantile. Compare their “wisdom” to that of the young boy and his thoughts on how to react in the event of a shooting. Horrifying.


      • Honestly? I’m worried the whole society will unravel to a degree where you won’t be able to assume that “people above a certain economic level will be OK”. Of course, the large majority of Americans are neither as rich as the Bickley family nor as poor as Emerita Ramone.

        Most people have some reason to fear the virus and/or another Great Depression.

        That said, I’m worried the damage to society not just from the virus but the lockdowns as well will continue to show itself for generations. I could name again a number of specific issues such as public transit, domestic violence, education and more.

        However, to the bigger picture: I’ve doubts about the ability of any society to survive if this goes on much longer. By that I mean both the virus itself and the lockdowns.


  3. notimportant

    So, I grew up working class. Still live in the general area of where I grew up.

    All the pandemic has done is put a spotlight on things that were already happening, make them worse, and expose some to the reality many of us growing up in deindustrialized communities have lived for years if not our whole lives.

    It has forced people who grew up middle class and lived beyond their means to do some of the worrying and tough decision making working class people already were doing.

    The only way out of this for so many like me is restoring well paying blue collar jobs and reversing offshoring yet none of the people pushing “solutions” want to do that or talk about that. Instead they want to push faux socialist ideas that are merely a bandaid and wouldn’t actually pull anybody out of poverty. They’d know this if they actually knew any of what they’re talking about.

    NYC used to be a place where people of all walks of life lived and had their place. Rent control and other protections fought for by what I suppose we’d term “the proletariat” (not gentrifiers playing poor, the actual proletariat) made that possible. The very people claiming to fight for the working class are the ones who removed those protections through gentrification and harassment/smear campaigns.

    Most people making $60K or more a year have completely recovered financially (and many who had guaranteed salaries and worked jobs they could do from home never suffered at all) yet nobody wants to actually focus on the people who are still struggling let alone those of us who already were. We are invisible to them, even in this pandemic. I don’t like Fox News but Tucker Carlson made a great point I came across where he basically said the rich and powerful in the US are now society’s biggest victims. In my experience that’s completely accurate, and they largely share the same mindset and views and outlook as the rich girls in this video you so rightly called out. Their constantly playing victim and demonizing others is what allows them to justify their true feelings and views towards us common folk and their actions based on them. I’ve never encountered more disgusting rhetoric from anybody than I have from suburban raised people on the left. It’s similar to what I’d assume I’d encounter from paternalistic racist Southerners from comfortable backgrounds.

    Our communities were destroyed by deindustrialization a long time ago. They use them for drugs and then gentrify them while demonizing us. No different than the previous generation of privileged people did. It breaks my heart and infuriates me to know that so much of what people like those in the worst of NYC’s neighborhoods go through could have been done away with years ago if privileged white people grew a conscience and stopped buying drugs and sex or the justice system actually had the guts to prosecute drug buyers rather than just dealers yet very few even have the guts to admit it let alone call it out and get shamed and shouted down if they do.

    One thing I salute the UK for is having the courage to allow journalists to call out middle class-upper class coke buyers for fueling drug related violence and having a conversation about it on national TV. The US will NEVER do that. I’m so glad to have been lucky enough to move out of my hometown when I did so I don’t have to see all of this firsthand. It’s disgusting how society treats those who aren’t so lucky.


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