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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Manhattan Boom

Manhattan boomed in the 1990s. This was obvious to most New Yorkers, but now it is official. According to figures released this month from the 2000 census, the average income in Manhattan grew 12.3 percent from the 1990 census, to $47,030. This was as good as the booming areas in the West, such as San Francisco and Seattle, which did very, very well. However, though the figures are brand-new, they might as well be historical documents.

The statistics were not all good news for New York City as a whole, which lost ground overall. The median income for New Yorkers dropped 1.1 percent to $38,293. This was because income dropped in all four of the other boroughs. Incomes in Flatbush, Brooklyn and Soundview in the Bronx, for example, both declined by about 17 percent; East Flushing in Queens declined by almost 15 percent; and in Manhattan itself, Chinatown declined by 14 percent.

But the rapid growth of the financial sector fueled a boom that saw those living in the Wall Street area, in Tribeca, in Soho, in Morningside Heights, and in the Upper West Side with much higher median income in 2000 than in 1990. The boom spread to Harlem, East Harlem and Washington Heights, which also showed income growth. And income grew in well-known "hot neighborhoods" outside Manhattan as well -- in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope (including the South Slope), Prospect Heights and Williamsburg. New Yorkers did not have to be involved in finance, or even in Manhattan, to participate in Manhattan's boom. The stockbroker benefited his landlady in Carroll Gardens, restaurateurs could open new eateries in Williamsburg, real estate values could surge in "the Slope."

But if there was a boom in Manhattan economically, there was another boom in the other boroughs a boom in population. Much of this growth occurred in areas with heavy immigrant increases, such as Queens and parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx New York City experienced two large population movements during the 1990s that probably account for these numbers. One was the rush of immigrants from many different countries. Immigrants seldom go on welfare and eventually do very well in the United States. Yet, when they first arrive, they often accept low wages for several years, especially if they do not have full documentation to work in the United States. The financial boom in Manhattan is largely the result of the second big population movement, that of highly educated people, many of them native born and white, who came to New York to seek their fortune in Wall Street and related sectors.

The 90's financial bubble has since burst -- Census 2000 was being conducted just as the stock exchanges were posting all-time records and the aftermath of September 11th offers the daunting challenge of rebuilding both infrastructure and employment base. If the financial sector starts leaving for New Jersey (which is where Bear Stearns and others are going) or Westchester (where Morgan Stanley, Skadden Arps and the New York Stock Exchange are planning to set-up large facilities), the Manhattan boom presented in the Census 2000 statistics will be just a pleasant memory.

Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination. The opinions expressed are his alone.

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