As New York City inches closer to recovering all the jobs it lost during the pandemic, Manhattan — the city’s economic engine — marked a far less encouraging milestone. It now has the biggest income gap of any large county in the country.
Even in a city notorious for tableaus of luxury living beside crushing poverty, the widening gap is striking. The wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites earned an average household income of $545,549, or more than 53 times as much as the bottom 20 percent, who earned an average of $10,259, according to 2022 census data, released earlier this month. Social Explorer, a demographic data firm, analyzed the data for The Times.
“It’s amazingly unequal,” said Andrew Beveridge, the president of Social Explorer. “It’s a larger gap than in many developing countries,” and the widest gulf in the United States since 2006, when the data was first reported. The Bronx and Brooklyn were also among the top 10 counties in the country in terms of income inequality.
It is the latest data to underscore the city’s lopsided rebound from the pandemic. Across the city, wages are up, but mostly for the affluent. Jobs are returning, but many are in low-paying positions. Unemployment is down, but remains sharply higher for Black and Hispanic New Yorkers. The mixed signals highlight a widening chasm: The city is recovering, but many of its residents are not.
“We’re still much worse off than we were in 2019,” said James Parrott, the director of economic and fiscal policy at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.
Nearly 20 percent of public housing residents in New York City reported making less than $10,000, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
And middle-income New Yorkers are also struggling. “I make $22 an hour, and I still can’t survive on my own in New York,” said Roger Gunning, 50, a sanitation worker and a resident of public housing in the South Bronx, where he lives with his wife, a social worker. Several of his co-workers live in temporary shelters, he said.
Middle-income New Yorkers are hurting since the pandemic, Dr. Parrott said, because of stagnant wage growth in service jobs and the slow recovery of major industries, like retail, which shrank more severely in New York than almost anywhere else in the country.
From 2019 to 2022, the median household income, when adjusted for inflation, fell below $75,000, a nearly 7 percent drop — four times the national rate of decline, and the steepest slide among the largest American cities. The next biggest income drop was posted by San Antonio where median household income dropped just over 5 percent to below $59,000. Phoenix, which recorded the largest improvement, had an almost 8 percent jump in median household income, to nearly $76,000.
Chino Zeno, a 21-year-old construction worker who makes $23 an hour installing solar panels, finds that his pay hasn’t kept up with inflation. To cover rising food and gas prices, and to help with expenses at his family’s apartment in East New York, Brooklyn, he moonlights as a freelance photographer.
He said he is grateful for a recent pay bump — he made just $16 an hour as a part-time warehouse worker in 2021, before training to enter the building trades — but it’s still not enough without a second job.
“One hundred is the new $20 bill,” he said. “It’s hard for people right now.”
The already affluent have benefited the most from rising wages, according to labor data analyzed by the Center for New York City Affairs. Low-paid workers, like restaurant servers and child care professionals, who made an average of $40,000 last year, saw their salary increase by just $186 every year from 2019 to 2022, when adjusted for inflation. But highly paid earners, who made an average of $217,000 in fields like technology and finance, received an average pay bump of $5,100 in each of those years, or 27 times more, in extra income, than low-wage earners.
The city has made significant strides. In August, the labor force participation rate was at a record high, and the unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, down from a pandemic peak of over 21 percent in May 2020. But New York has yet to fully recoup the jobs lost since the pandemic, while much of the nation already has, in part because the virus struck the city sooner and businesses, including those tied to hospitality and tourism, remained closed longer, Dr. Parrott said. Other popular entry-level jobs like couriers and home health aides have seen their wages lose ground to inflation.
Charles Lutvak, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, credited the job growth to initiatives like the expansion of youth employment and apprenticeship programs. “But we have more work to do, and we won’t stop until every New Yorker has access to a quality, family-sustaining job,” he said in a statement.
Wage growth has been stunted for many New Yorkers in part because the minimum wage, set at $15 an hour, has not increased since 2019, Dr. Parrott said. Among the 10 largest American cities, five have raised their minimum pay in that period by an average of 25 percent, and four of them have higher minimum wages than New York City.
Many labor groups are pushing for a $21-an-hour minimum wage, which itself could fall short of the cost of living, because the city does not scale pay to inflation, said Gregory Morris, the chief executive of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, an association of work force development groups. Next year, New York State will raise the minimum to $16 an hour in the greater New York City area and $15 statewide. In 2027, the minimum wage will be pegged to inflation.
“This is a working people’s city, as the mayor points out, but I think the question now is, which working people?” Morris asked.
For Khadijah Bethea, 42, a single mother raising three children on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, finding work is not the problem. It’s the hours.
After losing her job as a security guard at a bank in 2020, she started working as a server for catering events around the city — up to 70 hours a week, seven days a week.
At over $25 an hour, the jobs were worthwhile, but all-consuming, she said. “I caught a bad anxiety attack one day. You worry about not spending enough time with your children, so I said, ‘I need to find something else to do.’”
Ms. Bethea enrolled earlier this year in a 14-week career training program run by Henry Street Settlement and Stacks + Joules, two nonprofit organizations. The free program helps lower-income job seekers find work in heating and ventilation system management for large buildings.
She graduated in May and is now paid $20 an hour — less than she made waiting tables — but has the opportunity for career growth and the possibility of working remotely some days. For now, she still works about four catering gigs a week.
A significant dilemma for job seekers is that taking the time to learn new skills can be costly, especially in an expensive city like New York, said Anisee Alves-Willis, a program director for YouthBuild, a six-month employment program through St. Nicks Alliance, a nonprofit community services group.
The time commitment is a luxury many low- and middle-income workers can’t afford, even when stipends are included.
Angelita Mendez, 35, a beautician who moved to Washington Heights in Manhattan from the Dominican Republic in 2021, began taking free English lessons last year with a nonprofit service provider.
She only made it about halfway through the course before bills started to pile up — the $1,600 a month rent she splits with her mother, the $1,100 a month she pays to lease a booth in a salon and the rising cost of groceries for her two children. She makes about $600 a week, or around $31,000 a year.
“I don’t have the time to do it, honestly,” she said in Spanish, but hopes to one day return to the class, become proficient in English and use her skills to study cosmetology.
Where would her newfound skills take her?
Probably New Jersey, she said — where it’s cheaper.
Ana Ley contributed reporting.