The Manhattan income barbell

By Felix Salmon
December 2, 2009

Did you know that there are more rich households (anything over $192,000 a year for a family of four) in Bay Ridge than there are on the East Side south of 14th Street?

I’m not surprised that the East Village and Chinatown have more extremely poor households, with household income for a family of four under $23,000 a year — it’s exactly these people that my credit union was designed to serve. But I always assumed that the East Village had more of a barbell distribution than this glorious chart shows. Play around with it: it’s addictive.

Clearly there is a barbell situation going on in Manhattan as a whole, which is split up into nine neighborhoods. In every neighborhood except the East Village and Harlem, the high-income households outnumber any other income group. Meanwhile, in the four neighborhoods constituting Harlem and the East Village, the extremely low income households are the most numerous. In not a single neighborhood is the median income group anywhere between $23,000 and $192,000 for a family of four.

The chart comes via Mike Konczal, with whom I had dinner last night. We were talking a bit about places to live in New York, and most of the conversation was about Brooklyn and Queens. Certainly if you chose a place to live just by looking at the chart, you’d probably end up in the Brooklyn Heights/Fort Greene neighborhood, which comes the closest to having an even income distribution. And indeed that’s where the plurality of my own peer group has ended up. It’s a great place to live, and not nearly as extreme as most of Manhattan.

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13 comments so far

If you separated Brooklyn Heights and Fort Greene I think you would find the two income distributions to be very different.

Posted by vonbon | Report as abusive

How can anyone afford to live in Manhattan making under 23k a year??

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

“How can anyone afford to live in Manhattan making under 23k a year??”Section 8 and Rent Control.

Posted by Phil | Report as abusive

“In not a single neighborhood is the median income group anywhere between $23,000 and $192,000 for a family of four.”Huh?

Two comments:- why exactly is “flatness of income distribution” an interesting or relevant factor in deciding where to live? You get a warm, fuzzy feeling from knowing that there are roughly equal numbers of poor, middling and rich folks within 50 blocks? You expect that your own degree of prosperity is going to fluctuating a lot (but you don’t expect to move), so you want to have a broad range of restaurant, shopping and entertainment options across price levels nearby just in case?- a division of Manhattan into nine pieces makes the pieces so large that calling them “neighborhoods” is fairly ridiculous. The Upper West Side piece has a population of at least 200,000!

Posted by David | Report as abusive

What’s the data source here? The best income microdata I know are the nonpublic ACS numbers — did they get those somehow? Otherwise, you’re stuck with PUMAs which don’t map so well to neighborhoods, and are too big anyhow (~400k people apiece as I recall).

Brooklyn Heights and Fort Greene are demographically very different – there are essentially no cheap BH apartments whereas Fort Greene is at least near cheap apartments and realtors will certainly try to sell you cheap apartments in their delusionary concept of “Fort Greene”. As a result BH is white people/Manhattan worker land and Fort Greene is a cross section of Brooklyn demographics and income levels. If you care about mingling with a variety of people at your coffeeshop and don’t mind living in a neighborhood with a heightened rate of property crime (perhaps due to income disparities?), Fort Greene is your place. Bear in mind that BH has essentially always been a nice neighborhood while every other Brooklyn neighborhood has gone through cycles of popularity and wealth. Anyone who invested in condos in “East Williamsburg” or “My realtor called it Fort Greene/Clinton Hill but my neighbors think they live in Bed-Stuy” or is working on building and selling a “Park Slope” building along 4th Ave (aka Gowanus/almost a highway) knows that marginal neighborhoods subject you to a lot of reappraisal risk.Also remember that income numbers may well be under-reported. If you live in a neighborhood where the prevailing rents don’t correspond to reported incomes (hi EV/LES/Chinatown), consider what percentage of people are family-sponsored or have illegal income. I can’t imagine there’s a restaurant in the world where all income is reported, and certainly not in Manhattan. That’s before you even get to the really illegal stuff.

Posted by najdorf | Report as abusive

If by “even income distribution” you mean what is usually called “diversity,” you’re referring to something that many will say they want, but their residential choices indicate otherwise.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Overlaying net income after taxes would be helpful. I suspect if Felix ever finds himself carrying a family of four in Manhattan and fulfills his legal tax obligations, he will not feel close to rich at $192k per year pre tax.

Sandrew,Felix means “mode” not “median”.Certainly if you chose a place to live just by looking at the chart, you’d probably end up in the Brooklyn Heights/Fort Greene neighborhood, which comes the closest to having an even income distribution.I would think you would choose a neighborhood that matches your own income both presently and in the future.

Posted by right | Report as abusive

I live in the Lower East Side on E. Houston St. If you eliminate the public housing in the area, the demographics would change drastically. The median income of the area would increase drastically. It’s the public housing that brings down the median income. The public housing may be found along Ave C, Ave D and from Pitt St to the FDR. There are a lot of public housing buildings in the area. I couldn’t imagine the cost it takes for the city to upkeep them every year – $5 Billion citywide annually. Could you imagine the cost if the city had to rebuild public housing? Just think of the size of those buildings!

Posted by kmc | Report as abusive

In not a single neighborhood is the median income group anywhere between $23,000 and $192,000 for a family of four.Not so – median income per site he cited:Wash Hgts/Inwood – 31,100Central Harlem – 33,400East Harlem – 29,200UES – 178,000I stop there, because in ALL neighborhoods the median is between 23K and 192K – so what does Felix mean? Is it just a typo, and he meant to say that in no neighborhood was it outside that range???Felix?

Posted by fatbear | Report as abusive

“flat income distribution” is a very silly and incorrect distillation of these parts of brooklyn. what you mean is that there are the same number of squares in each of the bins that the authors happened to use for their chart. high income earners are vastly over-represented in these areas compared to the rest of the country and the world.if you want a flat income distribution which is more representative, move to astoria.(resident of cobble hill (last 2 years), former resident of astoria (previous 7 years))

Posted by q | Report as abusive
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