A Tale of Two Cities: Jews vs. Hispanics and Blacks, New York City

A Tale of Two Cities: Jews vs. Hispanics and Blacks, New York City

New York magazine has a great chart comparing two adjacent New York City congressional districts in this week’s issue. One is District 14, which includes all of the Upper East Side, parts of Murray Hill, Long Island City, Astoria, and a few other less affluent places too. The other is District 16, just north of the Upper East Side, and covers much of the South Bronx. The stats they line up are startling: the average income in District 14 is $79,385; in D-16 it’s $23,073. In D-14, 9.9% of people live below the poverty line; in D-16, 39.2% do.

There are no stats on how many Jews live in each district, but there are on how many residents are white: 73.2% in D-14, compared with 21.4% in D-16. Blacks make up 5.2% of D-14, and 35.9% in D-16; Hispanics are 13.7% in D-14, and 66.5% in D-16. My guess is that if you could isolate just the Upper East Side and the South Bronx, the numbers would be even more disparate. And for Jews too.

So what’s it all mean? A lot of things, though I’m not the one to break it all down, and especially not here. But at least one fact is abundantly clear: New York City can cheer all it wants about being a diverse city, but once you break down the city to its most essential unit–the neighborhood–it’s more segregated than ever. I’m not one to ascribe this to lurking racist attitudes hiding just beneath our otherwise shared political values (both districts vote heavily Democratic). Yet there is no question that, at root, economic disparities are leaving a deep cleavage in our city. Worse, those disparaties overlap conspicuously with race.

That’s the point of the graphic, at least foremost. But it offers a few man-on-the-street interviews to show how today’s wheezing economy affects people of very different classes. One guy they profile is Mitchell Weisenberg, 36, who I’m assuming is Jewish. He lives in D-14. The other is Roxanne Hunter, 53, who lives in the South Bronx. But interestingly both are out of a job.

How they describe their current job search is revealing. Weisenberg was laid off from his job as an equity analyst during the recession, and just took the C.F.A. exam, which he hopes will bolster his resume. He’s also met with 50 temp agencies and headhunters, but so far, no luck. Only two interviews, no jobs, though there is a catch: "I have financial support for my family," he says, "and my wife is a therapist, so we have health insurance. But sometimes I think, How am I going to make this happen?"

I feel awful for this guy, I really do. And I hope he finds a decent job quick. But the view from those below is even worse. Hunter used to be a caretaker for the mentally handicap until the recession. When she was younger, she was in prison, and ever since she’s been laid off all potential employers seem to refuse her because of that fact. "They’re not supposed to discriminate," she says, "but they do. … I even went to McDonald’s," she adds. "We’ll call you" is how they responded.

She’s collected unemployment for a year–$595 a month from Social Security–plus $200 worth of food stamps a month–"but we eat $200 worth of food a week, if you buy meat." But at least she’s got a family too, and a very generous mother. Hunter’s mother has put her up in the third floor of her house. And Hunter is still looking for work: "About a month ago, I applied for a job at the laundromat," she says. "They called me and told me they had somebody else. I’m not being disrespectful, but at this point, I’ll shovel shit."

That’s life in the city these days–rough for the Weisenberg’s, worse for the Hunter’s.

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