The New York Wealth Bubble

Featured Image: Luke Stackpoole

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The tall expanse of the Williamsburg Bridge casts a deep shadow on the Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s a hot day, the residents finding shelter underneath umbrellas of new coffee shops and fair-trade hand-woven sun hats.

Some would say that this neighborhood is a “bubble” — a small, upper-class community with little care toward anyone not living right next to them, who share the same political ideals. Others would say that this is one example of how New Yorkers in general think, self-centered and unwilling to think about others not in their city.  

When pulled aside, Angela, a 35-year-old mother living next to Lorimer on the L train, was eager to discuss the “New Yorkers live in a bubble” stereotype perpetuated by bloggers and made fun of on the popular comedy sketch show, Saturday Night Live, November 16th, 2016, after the results of the presidential election. 

As shown in the skit, New Yorkers who live in this bubble are thought to be uncaring about anything outside of the city, self-absorbed and unwilling to accept an opinion other than their own. Due to NYC’s largely Democratic base, the sketch paints a picture of social-justice-warrior citizens unwilling to accept Trump’s presidency and having no knowledge of issues that don’t involve themselves. They’re even ignorant of tensions within the boroughs, a man within the sketch bragging, “We don’t see color!”

Angela quickly showed off her typical “New York” viewpoints — a strong feminist, vegan, and a critic of Donald Trump. She acknowledged that New Yorkers have a habit of thinking progressively,  but didn’t take that to mean that New Yorkers aren’t aware of the outside world. 

“I don’t think we live in a bubble,” she said as she sipped on an iced coffee from a metal straw, “I think we’re just the rational ones.”

Across Brooklyn, near the last stop on the L train, lives another New Yorker from the neighborhood of East New York, known for its hefty homicide rates (more than 100 logged murders each year until 2018, according to The New York Times). She is also a mother in her 30’s, originally born in Puerto Rico. She was afraid to give her name to protect her identity, so let’s call her Marissa, but her message was loud and clear. 

“The bubble is real, that’s for sure,” she said with a shake of her head, “but not for me, ‘cause I can’t afford to live in it.”

It seems this sentiment is shared throughout the un-gentrified sections of the community. 

Marissa believes that the “bubble” of safety and ignorance in New York City is limited to those privileged enough to be able to ignore problems the country — and even the city — is facing. She believes this is more concentrated in high-income neighborhoods like Park Slope, the Upper East Side, and  Williamsburg.

Marissa has seen dozens of her friends affected by threats of ICE raids, pollution, no access to produce, and dangerous living situations. She’s extremely frustrated by the lack of action by progressives in the city, as their political position would suggest they would be outraged by the suffering of fellow New Yorkers.

“There’s a gap here,” says Marissa, “They don’t care about anything that doesn’t affect them. I’ve seen them get more mad about turtles than people out here or in the Bronx somewhere suffering.”  

Based on extensive research from a multitude of sources on happiness, health, and quality of life for New Yorkers, those who live in more wealthy neighborhoods tend to feel more at peace. When you live above the poverty line, Marissa argues, you have the freedom to not think about political issues.

According to NYC health department officials, where you live in the city can affect your overall health. For instance, citizens in Brownsville (a neighborhood east of East New York) have an average life expectancy of 74 — 11 years less than the wealthy citizens of the Financial District.

This disparity of happiness also inadvertently correlates with race, as most residents of neighborhoods in NYC that are majority Black and Hispanic make under $40,000 annually, according to the New York Times’ interactive map of segregation, and the Office of Community Studies’ wealth distribution map.

According to a study by the New York Post, people of color ranked their situations far worse than whites. In Curbed NYC’s study on neighborhood satisfaction conducted in 2017, affluent, majority non-Hispanic white neighborhoods such as Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Lincoln Square, Gowanus, and Manhattan Valley neighborhoods all reported that they were “content”. 

This could be an explanation for the “bubble” mentality parodied by comedians — those with a comfortable quality of life and economic security, separated from those in the city dealing with opposing viewpoints and struggle, mixed with the progressive nature of the city makes for the perfect storm.

New Yorkers like couple Tim and Marisol who live on the Upper West Side see the city as a safe haven. “If New York is a bubble, I’d say it’s a pretty nice one,” says Tim. “After this election, it’s like the world’s been going crazy. It’s nice to know we still hold our values.” 

When asked about the segregation and the economic problems facing the city, both Tim and Marisol denied knowing about any of it and didn’t think that it was a problem normally discussed in their community. 

“They’re not challenged to think outside of themselves,” says Marissa. “They’re separated from the people who actually are facing hardships. It’s easy to say that New York is great, and not have to worry about anything outside of it because they don’t have to see it.”