Doug Henwood: NYC More Unequal than Brazil

LBO News from Doug Henwood:

The New York City Independent Budget Office is just out with an analysis (pdf )of income distribution in the city. It’s no surprise that it’s very unequal. The surprise is that it’s far more unequal than Brazil’s.

Full details are available in the letter—which was in response to a request from City Council member James Oddo—but here are some highlights:

  • The poorest tenth (decile) of the city’s population has an average income of $988, and claim 0.1% of the city’s total income. Since the source of this data is tax returns, the very poor no doubt have hidden sources of income. Taxable income doesn’t include many social benefits, like public housing or Food Stamps. Even allowing for that, my god.
  • The bottom half of the city’s income distribution has 9% of total income; the bottom 80%, 29%. Comparable figures for the U.S. are 19% for the bottom half and 44% for the bottom four-fifths.
  • The richest 10% of New Yorkers have 58% of total income, and the richest 5%, 49%. The national average is 42% for the top 10%, and 32% for the top 5%
  • And here’s where the action is, the proverbial 1%: it has 34% of total income, compared with 19% for the U.S. as a whole.

Some dollar amounts to make those percentages more concrete:

  • The average income of the poorest 30% is $6,373, on a par with Egypt and about $1,200 below China’s (computed on a purchasing power parity basis, which attempts to adjust for price differences across countries).
  • The city’s median income—the level at which half the population is richer and half is poorer—is $28,213. That’s roughly the level of Greece.
  • The average income of the top 10% (a category that begins at $105,368) is $387,259.
  • The average income of the top 1% (a category that begins at $493,439) is $2,247,515. These are the people that Andrew Cuomo was very reluctant to tax.

How does the city’s income distribution compare with that of Brazil, a country with a worldwide reputation for stunning inequality?

  • The income of the top 20% of New Yorkers is 64 times that of the bottom 20%. In Brazil, that ratio is 17 times.
  • The income of the top 10% of New Yorkers is 582 times that of the poorest 10%. In Brazil, that ratio is 35 times.

The New York and Brazilian comparisons are pretty rough, since the Brazilian figures are based on survey data reported by the World Bank. Rich people don’t answer surveys, so the incomes of rich Brazlians are probably way underestimated by that data. But if you look a little down the scale, to the second-richest quintile (20% slice) of Brazilians, they have incomes about 6 times the poorest quintile. In New York, the comparable ratio is 14 times.

So there you have it: New York City makes Brazil look almost like Sweden!

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Filed under critical thought, urban movements (right to the city)

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