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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Frames of Reference, cont.

Following up from the last post, I want to address some of Alec Baldwin’s specific claims regarding the Upper West Side. It turns out, by the letter of the law, he’s generally not really that far off. For instance, his claim that "The Upper West Side, particularly above 86th Street, has a lot of public housing,” is pretty accurate. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) houses about 7,500 people between 86th street and 106th street on the West Side. This is about 1/12th of the slightly less than 90,000 people total who live in the corresponding area. To provide some perspective, NYCHA houses about 500,000 of the slightly more than 8 million New Yorkers, or about 1/16th of the population. (NYCHA has an interactive map of developments here).

But his main contention involves the class composition of the Upper West Side. To his credit, he’s not trying to claim that he himself is middle-class, or his building is middle-class, just that “the Upper West Side is the most middle class part of Manhattan where I have lived.”

Now, given that Baldwin later goes on to state he’s lived between Central Park and the Hudson River for the last 25 years, I don’t really know what he’d be comparing it to, so instead let’s take his other claim, that “in terms of what I see, day to day, in Soho, TriBeCa, Upper East, Chelsea, the West or East Village, Flat Iron, the UWS is more middle class than any of those areas.” As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m going to give Baldwin the benefit of the doubt and extrapolate this to mean Manhattan including and below the Upper East and Upper West Sides.

There are six Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs) that make up this geography: 3805 (Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island), 3806 (Upper West Side), 3807 (West Side and Midtown between 14th and 59th) 3808 (East Side between 14th and 59th), 3809 (East Village, Lower East Side, part of Chinatown) and 3810 (The rest of Manhattan below 14th). And the Upper West Side, in terms of income, is smack dab in the middle of these – two PUMAs (3809 and 3807) have lower median incomes, two (3805 and 3810) have higher, and one (3807) is not different in a statistically significant way. Average per capita income and median family income are much the same, except that in each case there’s one PUMA that’s higher and two that aren’t different in a statistically significantly way. So I suppose, in the data set Baldwin’s using, the Upper West Side could be considered middle-class. After all, the median family income for the area is just $169,815 as opposed to the hoity-toity Upper East Side’s $180,289.

The Median Income for “212” – the island of Manhattan – is $79,522. For the United States it’s $62,363. For the Five Boroughs of New York it’s $55,562.

So is the Upper West Side the most middle class of the Manhattan neighborhoods Baldwin is referring to? Sure, insofar as it’s also the most suburban, and most Mormon, and most Senegalese of these neighborhoods.

At the heart of this whole thing though, is that it really seems like Baldwin somehow wants props for not living in Scarsdale or Greenwich or the Upper East Side, or maybe the 7th arrondissement, even though he could afford to - instead opting for the "middle-class" Upper West Side. OK. But he should realize that even if the Upper West Side were middle-class, this is still the equivalent of buying a Rolls-Royce to drive to work and then noting he's chosen to take the "middle-class" way to the office because hey, he could have flown there in a helicopter.

All income numbers are from five-year (2005-2009) American Community Survey Data.

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