Increasing class divide puts stress on NYC social relationships
"My family gets upset with me because I miss a lot of functions - like birthdays," sighed Tamara Soto, a mid town waitress. On one recent Sunday, Soto had to beg off attending a party for a cousin turning a year old.
Soto's family members - who have benefit-bearing Monday-to-Friday jobs - just don't understand what it takes to stay afloat in "the new normal," said Soto, 30.
A lack of time to spend with family and friends is just one way the widening economic divide in New York City is damaging our social relationships. According to a report last year by the Fiscal Policy Institute, median weekly wages in NYC fell 3.4% over the past four years while workers in business management and finance gained 17.6%. Soto has a bachelor's degree, but all but a tiny subset of the college educated lost ground, said the study. While the city gained 82,000 low-wage jobs, it lost 250,000 mid and high-wage jobs, meaning that 40% of all NYC residents are now officially poor or near poor.
Yet, the rich are indeed getting richer. Until the 1970s, the share of income going to the wealthiest one percent held steady at around 9 or 10%. By 2007 in New York, the wealthy one percent's share of income in NYC grew to 44% of all income.
Domestic violence and family violence rise in times of economic stress, but the widening class divide erodes social relationships in myriad other ways as well: City PTAs and block associations are rife with tales of class friction between the haves, have less and have almost nothings. Working parents have less time to spend with their kids. Singles have less money, time and, sometimes, even inclination, to date. Exhausted workers retreat from community and volunteer activities. Romantic partnerships are more likely to fracture because "there's much more tension in the household," over who brings in what, according to Stanley Aronowitz, the distinguished professor of sociology at CUNY Graduate Center and the author of "The Jobless Future."
Increasing class divisions also mean that we segregate into a balkanized social structure that Aronowitz describes as "class apartheid."
"It's just so much easier to be around people who agree with you," noted Philip Kasinitz, sociology professor at CUNY Graduate Center.
"People with money can do more things and be more active - they can take advantage of all the amazing things New York has," lamented Alison Frederick, 30, a midtown actress. Frederick recently begged off from joining a pal at a club she couldn't afford, telling her, "if you want to come over later, feel free." She didn't.
Just staying in touch is made difficult by the fact that "some people have two or three jobs. And the weekends for many people are no longer a time off," Aronowitz noted. People of all social strata may feel frustrated that friends cannot understand their grueling work demands, crazy-quilt schedules, and economic limitations.
"When you have a lot of money and have the freedom to control your own time, you lose track of the fact that most people don't," said Aronowitz. Yet, more often that not, he noted, seeing a friend who earns significantly more means "adjusting to their schedule and being inconvenienced by the wealthier person's availability," said Aronowitz.
It's true his schedule is insane, said Dan Nainan, 30, a "clean" comedian who performed in 11 countries last year and estimates he is in "the top 2%" of income, thanks to a skyrocketing career and savvy tech investing. But Nainan, of Chelsea, maintains relationships with poorer friends by doing "two things: I always pick up the check, and I also give my friends advice," on saving and investing, he said. He said he empathizes with the situations of his poorer friends because he grew up in a much lower income bracket and has an "Asian thing" of remaining humble. "If you become well off, it's really important to sympathize with people and not rub (the fact that you make more money) in their faces," he said.
Too often people begrudge someone who gets welfare, has a pension or makes more money than they do, said Aronowitz: "We should be trying to raise all boats rather than trying to sink the boats a little bit above us."
When a relationship is authentic and two people truly care about each other, disparate incomes are not an insurmountable divide, said Bonnie Jacobson, Manhattan psychologist and author of "Intimate Listening."
"You can get defensive if you have a rich friend who seems to be neglecting you, but it may not be true: It may just be a missed connection or miscommunication. Don't just make assumptions. Ask them, 'why is it so hard for us to get together?'" And then, said Jacobson, "really, really listen," said Jacobson.