If you read my post yesterday on the Wall Street whining about smaller bonus checks you became acquainted with a fellow named Andrew Schiff. He’s the director of marketing for a broker-dealer earning $350,000 who said, “I’m crammed into 1,200 square feet. I don’t have a dishwasher. We do all our dishes by hand.” I know. Cue the violins.
Well, before the pixels had a chance to settle on my computer screen, Schiff sent me an e-mail. When I saw the subject line — “This is Andrew Schiff” — I braced myself for a fire-breathing screed. I got the opposite.
I have been doing my dishes by hand, completely, for the last decade. How many Americans can say the same? The point I was trying to make was that one would have assumed that a person of my salary would have a dishwasher.
There is a lot of manipulation going on here. I said that I felt STUCK about being caught in traffic. . . . I never said I felt STUCK about my life. The reporter chose to apply that feeling as a metaphor to the rest of my life. He made an implication that was misleading but not slanderous. That’s how this game works. I made sure to tell him that I am happy and grateful for all that I have and that I know I have huge advantages over most people. He chose not to mention that part.
The whole point of my talking to him was to relate how much it actually costs to live in [a] high tax, high cost place like New York, not to complain about a salary that I acknowledged was very high in comparison to the rest of America.
I am [now] a posterchild for all that is venal and insidious in the world. When in fact my biggest sin is trying to get separate bedrooms for my son and daughter.
p.s. I know I am creating many of my own problems by choosing to remain in NYC. The suburbs are cheaper . . . but we are simply passionate New Yorkers. My frustration is not with my salary but with living standards that are harder to achieve than I thought they would be.
I know what you’re still thinking. Cue the violins. You probably still think Schiff is a grade-A, out-of-touch jerk for boo-hooing to Bloomberg News about his bonus reduction. But having lived in New York City (and not on his salary), I’m very sympathetic to Schiff’s plaint. The “high tax, high cost” of living in the Big Apple is real. It’s a city where you could go from your shoebox apartment to the office every day and have no idea how you spent $30 in the process.
The New York Daily News reported on a study from the Center for an Urban Future with the headline “N.Y.C. so costly you need to earn six figures to make middle class.” As “Reviving the City of Aspiration” points out, “Income levels that would enable a very comfortable lifestyle in other locales barely suffice to provide the basics in New York City.”
Given the vastly higher cost of living in New York City, however, it is doubtful that any New York household that earns even $60,000 per year enjoys a quality of life that remotely approaches what we typically imagine as “middle class.” The “New York City premium” on goods and services from housing and groceries to utilities and transportation means that a $60,000 salary earned in Manhattan is the equivalent of making $26,092 in Atlanta; $31,124 in Miami; and $35,405 in Boston. In less-expensive Queens, that same $60,000 salary carries only as much purchasing power as $37,451 in Atlanta, $44,673 in Miami, or $50,819 in Boston.
On page 11, there’s a chart depicting “an analysis of what a person living in Manhattan, Queens and other cities needs to make to enjoy a similar standard of living as someone earning $50,000 a year in Houston.” According to the report, if you live in Manhattan you need a salary of $123,322 to be in the middle class.
Of course, Schiff’s salary is almost triple that, which is whittled down to less than $200,000 after taxes, health insurance and 401(k) contributions. And even he readily acknowledges that he has “huge advantages over most people.” But I had to acknowledge that Schiff’s concern — providing for his family — is not unlike anyone else’s. He just has a lot more coin to do it in a city that requires a lot more coin.