The Real Economy

From the richest to poorest in New York City

David Brancaccio Apr 24, 2012

David Brancaccio: It’s primary day here in New York and several other nearby states. Now that Mitt Romney has all-but-sewn up his candidacy for president on the GOP side, he’ll give a key speech today pivoting from the primaries toward the general election in the fall. But as part of Marketplace’s coverage of what really matters in this election — what we’re calling The Real Economy — we have a story about an economic gulf in one primary state.  By one set of measures, America’s richest and America’s poorest congressional districts lie just five stops apart along a New York City subway line. Let’s visit.

Sarah Burd-Sharps: I think there’s a lot of reasons why the way pie is divided ends up sometimes being very uneven and this is of course true across the nation. It’s just not New York City.

Brancaccio: That’s our tour guide, Sarah Burd-Sharps. She’s the co-director of the Measure of America that has mapped who’s moving ahead and who’s lagging in every part of the United States.

Burd-Sharps: We might want to go to the park.

We start off on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in part of Congressional District 14, the district with the highest income in the country.  Here, the typical worker makes $64,000 a year. That’s per person — not per household. But Burd-Sharps says, it isn’t just about these obvious signs of wealth.

Susan Bernstein: I’m just putting down the chrysanthemums right now.

Susan Bernstein lives in this Congressional district and is spending part of her day laying mulch atop a lush flowerbed in Carl Schurz Park.

Bernstein: There are hostas and ferns and daffodils, of course.

She volunteers here one day a week. Bernstein says this park is a place where you can forget about the concrete of the surrounding city, which is why she says the neighborhood is very unhappy about a plan to use a garbage holding station a few blocks away.

Bernstein: They’re going to truck garbage from all over Manhattan up to there, but there’s a great group that’s trying to stop this from happening. Just F.Y.I.

New York City wants to re-open a waste transfer center that closed in the late 1990s. The neighborhood’s been fighting it.

Burd-Sharps: People in very affluent neighborhoods often have really sophisticated skills for making their voices heard that people don’t have to the same extent.

So while the island of Manhattan currently has zero waste transfer stations at work, ride the subway for about 10 minutes to the South Bronx and it’s a different story. You have 19 waste transfer stations here in Congressional District 16, the district with the lowest income in the United States. The South Bronx, among other things, is known as the asthma corridor and has one of the highest rates of hospitalization in the country, which could explain this fact:

Burd-Sharps: A baby born today in the 14th District, Manhattan’s East Side, can expect to outlive a baby born today in this area by four years.

We ran into Melissa Castro and her children at a playground next to Rainey Park in the South Bronx. When Burd-Sharps tells her the number of garbage transfer stations around here, Castro says she had no idea.

Melissa Castro: That’s why all of our kids have asthma? Wow. I did not know that. Evie’s daughter has to carry around with an inhaler all the time, last summer she wasn’t like that.

Researchers continue to investigate links between asthma and the transfer stations and pollution from the network of highways all around here.

Castro: I have to get out of the Bronx for my kids health and even the schools, I don’t want to even go on top of that subject.

Experts say these conditions help explain why these gaps in standards of living — just a few subway stops apart — remain so persistent.

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