SOME big American cities are flourishing as at no time in recent memory. Places like New York and San Francisco appear to be richer and more dazzling than ever: crime remains low, new arrivals pour in, neighborhoods have risen from the dead. New York is in the throes of the biggest building boom in 30 years, its population at an all-time high and climbing. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proudly promotes his city as “a luxury product.”
But middle-class city dwellers across the country are being squeezed.
This time, they are being squeezed out by the rich as much, or more so, as by the poor — a casualty of high housing costs and the thinning out of the country’s once broad economic middle. The percentage of middle-income neighborhoods in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington has dropped since 1970, according to a recent Brookings Institution report.
The percentage of higher-income neighborhoods in many places has gone up. In New York, the supply of apartments considered affordable to households with incomes like those earned by starting firefighters or police officers plunged by a whopping 205,000 in just three years, between 2002 and 2005.
Of course, cities need police officers, firefighters, teachers. But as long as they can get the labor they need from somewhere nearby, some economists say, middle-class shrinkage may not hurt. In Southern California, developers import construction workers from Las Vegas and put them up in hotels; costs go up but rich clients can pay. Firefighters who want to live in high-priced cities can work two jobs, said W. Michael Cox, chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “I think it’s great,” he said. “It gives you portfolio diversification in your income.” Pay for essential workers like plumbers and cabdrivers will tend to go up, he said.
If working two jobs to put a roof over your head is a good thing, why doesn't Mr. Cox give it a whirl and see how much he appreciates the "portfolio diversification of his income"? Who needs to see the wife and kids?