York City Social Indicators 1997 - A Tale of Many Cities
In this inaugural report of the Columbia University New York City Social Indicators Survey, we use data collected in a telephone survey in 1997 from a random sample of New York City families to assess the well-being of New Yorkers. Well-being is measured in terms of human, financial and social assets, economic and social living conditions, the adequacy of institutional supports, and satisfaction with the city and its services. The New York City Social Indicators Survey is a unique effort to take the "social temperature" of the city. No other data source measures the well-being of all New Yorkers across so many do-mains and in such depth.
The Best and Worst of Times
Like the Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities, from which we adapt our title, we find that for some New Yorkers this is the best of times and, for others, it is, perhaps, the worst of times.
Bloated at the Bottom
Some observers have described the city as "hollow in the middle." Our data suggest instead, that, compared to the U.S. as a whole, New York may more appropriately be described as "bloated at the bottom" by the high proportion of families with very low assets and very impoverished living conditions.
The City's Rich Diversity
The averages tell us that New York is different from the rest of the country. But New York is not a city of averages - it is a city of contrasts and of extremes. In a city as large and diverse as New York, the story of well-being is inevitably more complicated than a tale of only two cities, rich and poor. In this first report, we only begin to suggest the many stories associated with the city's rich racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic, and family composition diversity.
One story is that of large differences between White, Black and Hispanic New Yorkers. On virtually every measure, White New Yorkers are more advantaged, enjoy better living conditions, and rate the city and its institutions more highly than others. And among people of color in the city, Hispanics are the worst off in their economic and living conditions.
Another story is of somewhat smaller, but still quite large, disparities within groups. Differences between immigrants and non-immigrants are particularly striking. On most measures of well-being, immigrant families lag behind their U.S.- born counterparts. ·
The story is still more complex, however, because on some measures of well-being, New York's immigrants report themselves to be faring better than their U.S.- born counterparts. The most encouraging news concerns their children.
Although they are worse off than U.S.- born families on many dimensions, immigrant families also describe themselves as more satisfied with many as-pects of life in the city.
Large Distance between the Affluent and the Poor
New York is a city of great, and perhaps growing, inequality. The story of inequality is conveyed most dramatically when we compare the well-being of New York families with incomes at or below the poverty line to that of families who are reasonably affluent - those with incomes at least four times the poverty threshold. The distance between these New Yorkers is vast, not only in income but in other dimensions of economic and social well-being.
The Most Vulnerable New Yorkers
It is not only the extent but the distribution of compromises to well-being that tell the story of New York City. Different groups of New Yorkers face very different risks and have very different odds of experiencing compromises to their well-being. Changes over the life cycle capture part of the story but, on most measures, age-related differences are overshadowed by differences between families with and without children.
With limited income and assets, families with children emerge as the most distressed New Yorkers. They are the most likely of all New Yorkers to be poor, to experience hunger and problems paying their utility bills, to be living in overcrowded and substandard housing. And among families with children, the 50 percent who are headed by a single parent are the most disadvantaged of all. Single parent families in New York have less of everything. One-half are headed by an adult with less than a high school education; two-thirds have no financial assets; more than one in ten care for a disabled child; nearly six in ten are poor; one in eight goes hungry some of the time.
Extreme levels of disadvantage among families with children are troubling in the present. They bode ill for the future as well, insofar as they translate into worse odds of success for their children.
Taking the Measure of the City
In this inaugural report of the New York City Social Indicators Survey, we set out to take the "social temperature" of the city and its residents. We find that New York City is different, on average, from the rest of the country. But we also find that New York is not a city of averages; it is not one city but many cities; not one story but many stories. New York City: A Tale of Many Cities only begins to capture the diversity of the city by telling the stories of New Yorkers who differ by borough, race, ethnicity, immigration status, age and family type.
More than any other U.S. city, New York is a city in which contrasts coexist: the rich live alongside the poor; the youngest and the oldest residents share the same streets; native-born citizens mingle with immigrants from nearly every country of the world. It is a city of great, and perhaps growing, inequality in financial, human and social assets, economic and social living conditions, adequacy of institutional supports and satisfaction with the city and its services. This report documents the magnitude and some of the concrete manifestations of inequality in the city. It raises, but cannot finally answer, the question of what this means and whether it should be a source of shared concern for all New Yorkers - whether they are enjoying the best, or suffering the worst, of times.