Here's what I know about all the problems of the world: they are your fault. By your hard work and success (even if modest) you are the cause of the great suffering of others. You wallow in your undeserved privilege. You are guilty, guilty, guilty, and you need to feel it deeply and to grovel and beg forgiveness regularly.
For example, if you are affluent or white (or worse, both) you brought about the suffering of the poor and of minorities in America by moving to the suburbs. You "left behind," or worse, "abandoned," the poor in the "inner cities," as you became part of the "suburban flight." You "fortified" yourself in your "suburban enclave," leaving the "inner cities" without the resources they needed to lift the poor out of poverty, or even to provide basic government services. How can you even look yourself in the mirror?
If you are my age, or even half my age, you have heard or read some version of this narrative many thousands of times in your life -- so many times that undoubtedly by now it is just part of the background noise of your existence. Of course you know all these things. Everybody knows them!
But if you are the curious sort, you may have started to wonder in recent years whether this narrative was consistent with the more recent phenomenon of gentrification of urban neighborhoods. Could somebody maybe take a few minutes to explain how these things fit together?
Which brings me to the big front page story in yesterday's New York Times, headline "Pushed to Fringes, Needy New Yorkers Face a Long Slog to Work." Without anybody telling you it was coming, suddenly the narrative has completely shifted. No longer are you causing the suffering of the poor by "abandoning" them and "fleeing" to the suburbs. Now you are causing the suffering of the poor by moving into the inner cities and thereby "pushing" the poor to the "fringes." Key quote:
“Commutes are lengthening for more and more people,” a study by the Pratt Center for Community Development and the Rockefeller Foundation reported in 2013. “Skyrocketing housing costs push low- and moderate-income families farther from Manhattan and the well-connected communities that surround it.” The study found that 758,000 New York City residents now travel more than an hour each way to work, most of them to jobs that pay less than $35,000 per year. Black New Yorkers’ trips to work are 25 percent longer than whites, and Hispanics, 12 percent longer than whites, other research by the Pratt Center found. . . .
These hardships built up over decades. . . . Those long commutes mark a new boundary between lower-income people and those who are relatively affluent. . . .
This being Pravda, don't go expecting any comprehensive data to back up the new narrative, let alone an honest rendering of the full picture. Instead, what we get is a handful of anecdotes -- actually, it's only two -- of sympathetic low wage workers who endure lengthy daily commutes involving multiple bus and subway legs together with, in one of the cases, the Staten Island Ferry. Why? Undoubtedly to support a coming demand for some new government program or handout to cure the problem.
But perhaps we should first apply a touch of critical thinking to what has been presented. Consider this excerpt from the quote above: "758,000 New York City residents now travel more than an hour each way to work, most of them to jobs that pay less than $35,000 per year. Black New Yorkers’ trips to work are 25 percent longer than whites." Wait -- is this limited to "residents" of New York City? One thing that is obvious about the New York City commuting situation is that the longest commutes are not within the City, but rather involve trips into the City from some distant suburb. The commuters on those trips are predominantly (although far from entirely) white. Could the Times possibly have left out that huge piece of the picture in order to skew the result? And then not mention explicitly that they have made that omission? Yes, that is exactly what they have done. So, if all commutes in the New York Metropolitan Area were included in the statistics, which would have the longer average commutes, whites or blacks? You won't find that answer here. I guess that tells you what you need to know -- clearly, the answer would be reversed.
And then, aside from a couple of anecdotes, can we actually find anything in government statistics to establish that poor and minorities are being "pushed out" of close-in neighborhoods in New York City by gentrification? As I have previously reported, the statistics that I can find just don't indicate that at all. Admittedly, statistics on income and poverty by county or neighborhood come out with substantial lags, and it is possible that more recent data, when they emerge, will show the phenomenon the Times says is occurring. But then, the Times claims to base its article on a report from 2013.
Here are the latest data on poverty in New York County (essentially the same thing as Manhattan), released in February 2017 and covering the year 2016. The "poverty rate" is said to be 17.9%. Even though New York County is by many measures the wealthiest county in the country, that rate is considerably higher than the national rate for the same year, which was 13.5%. The anomaly results from the large suite of government programs that we have in New York to subsidize poor people so that they can continue to live in this wealthy place -- programs like public housing, Section 8 vouchers, food stamps, clothing and energy assistance, and so forth. If massive government programs are so large that they can keep the "poverty" population in this wealthy county well above the national norm, is it really fair to say that the poor have been "pushed out"?
Well, one thing remains clear, and that is that you are guilty. When you moved to the suburbs you were guilty, and when you moved back to the city you became even more guilty. In fact there is no place you could live that would make you any less guilty. We'll figure out why you are even more guilty after your next move. Better start groveling and begging for forgiveness!