Middle Class in Manhattan

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Sometimes I really do wonder how it's possible that I get to live in this city...

In a doorman, elevator building in Manhattan, the average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,903 a month.  That's an increase of about $800 from one year ago.  On the Upper West Side (my neighborhood), it's $3,654, up $1,000 from the previous year.

So I don't pay rent.  Or utilities.  Let's assume that water, electricity, gas, and internet is $250 a month...$3,000 a year.  And then, I get a meal plan...10 meals a week in the dining hall plus $200 dining dollars a semester.  I've never used all of those weekly meals, but for argument's sake let's say that at $8 a meal, that's worth about $3,000 a year.  So when you factor in rent, that's a cost of living package valued at just under $50,000.  I get a very, very small monthly stipend for being a graduate assistant.  So let's just call it $55,000 a year.

And the thing is, I'm pretty much constantly broke.

(Note to Chief/Mom and Grandma: this is not my way of asking for money.  I'm good.  Seriously.  Just saying...this place is crazy.)

If I was living pretty much anywhere else in the entire country, I would be thrilled with that salary.  Over the moon.  Paying off debt and living somewhere really cool and not freaking out when I spend $50 on dinner (for just me).  Except, of course, that I would never spend $50 on dinner in any other city.  But $50 on dinner is just sort of your average-ish Tuesday night restaurant.  $50 would never get you a fancy, special night out dinner in Manhattan.  As Carrie Underwood says, "what I just paid for dinner would be a down payment on a house..."

Just to put it all together, read this New York Times article from a couple of days ago: "What Is Middle Class In Manhattan?"

I was happy to read that higher education is one of New York's fastest growing sectors, and that your average tenured professor at Columbia or NYU makes $180,000.  Maybe one day that will be me.  But the thing is, that's not really that much money here.  Sure, it would allow you to live comfortably, but definitely not extravagantly.  That is solidly middle class living in Manhattan.  I often wish for at least one more bedroom, since I have so many visitors who want to see the city hotel-free.  There is absolutely no way I could afford two bedrooms.  You're talking an extra $3,000 a month in rent.  The only way I afford the one I have is all those middle of the night hospital visits.

By New York standards, I have it good...one bedroom, doorman, elevator, pre-war building, front door literally at the subway stop, half a block from Riverside Park.  It's the dream.  And every once in awhile, I start to think that maybe a little more time in the Big Apple would be good.  But really, who can afford to stay?  So I keep thinking about where I'll go and what I'll do next, and the verdict is still out.  But oddly, anywhere I go will be a higher cost of living than what I have now.

That's the craziest part of all.

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