In America's Financial Capital, a Staggering Wealth Gap

Nickolay Lamm of
When it comes to average per capita wealth, New York City has been eclipsed by a handful of other locales, but the city that never sleeps still holds sway in the public imagination as the capital of capital, the center of the financial industry, and a place where a $235,000 salary still only counts as middle class. But, as a couple of recent articles show, New York isn't just a center of American wealth: it's also a center of American wealth inequality, a place where the divide between the very rich and the very poor is sometimes only a matter of a few hundred feet ... as the crow flies.

Even the wealthiest cities still run on an army of lower-income workers. For years, New York has fought with the question of how to house its middle- and lower-class workers in a market that is heavily skewed toward the richest of the rich. The latest solution, mixed-income housing, requires that new buildings have apartments set aside for poorer residents. Apartment buildings that set aside more space for low-income tenants get more attractive financing rates from the city.

On the surface, this seems like a good deal for all involved. Lower-income workers get affordable places to live, developers get money from the city, and richer tenants get to enjoy some of New York's famed economic and social diversity. In practice, however, the situation can be more problematic: recently, a proposed condominium on New York's expensive Upper West Side revealed plans to segregate its high income and lower-income tenants by installing separate entrances and elevators for both groups. One area newspaper, The West Side Rag, likened the arrangement to "Downton Abbey," "where the servants have to come and go through separate entrances and bow their heads when they see a noble."

Area residents have gotten up in arms about the building's plans, but the newspaper points out that these sorts of arrangements aren't uncommon: "New York real estate is filled with 'poor doors' and 'rich doors.'" For that matter, the city's richest and poorest are often separated by only a few subway stops. In an article that came out earlier this year, The New Yorker compared the relative income of each subway stop, noting that "if the borough of Manhattan were a country, the income gap between the richest twenty per cent and the poorest twenty per cent would be on par with countries like Sierra Leone, Namibia, and Lesotho."

(For my part, the article's interactive tool revealed that the average income around the subway stop I used to get on to ride to work was one sixth the average income of the subway stop where I got off.)

Last week, researcher and artist Nickolay Lamm found a new way to present New York's stunning wealth gap: using information from mapping system ArcGIS, he constructed a block-by-block map of wealth in New York, wherein the richest addresses are represented by towering green bars and the poorest are barely-present blocks. Even for people who aren't familiar with New York real estate, it isn't hard to see what the map of Harlem represents. Featuring a long, low, green space, it shows a place where household incomes barely register. In the distance, a wave of green blocks hide horizon: staggeringly tall, the wall of wealth seems distant and impenetrable.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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Sally Beth Edelstein

The American Dream just doesn't add up. With the economic division more striking than ever, the American Dream is divided. You don't have to do the math to see the 2 schools of thought in this matter are as stark as black and white. Take a look

September 13 2013 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Devon Arnett

While there are plenty of websites that provide end of day data, only a few are trustworthy enough that you can rely on them on a day-to-day basis or even use this data on your own site. If you want to offer online access to this type of data you should consider installing a data feed like the one provided by Barchart Market Data Solutions. It is easy to install and very reliable for all your data needs.

September 09 2013 at 10:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

gee,whudda thunk IT ? a wealth gap !!!!!!!!!
there ARE rich and there ARE POOR jammed together on fantasy island also known as manhattan as nyc is composed of 5 BOROS
and in order to GET A BUILDING BUILT a certain oercentage of crap must ALSO INHABIT a luxury highrise.

so brewcee and the OTHER percenters don't like that.
well, millions would like to know how much SECTION 8 lives side by side brewceee and his friends.

August 21 2013 at 1:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When there is a location with a large disparity in wealth then expect to see a lack of knowledge and skills of many of the inhabitants. One cannot expect to be paid more unless they provide a larger production of goods or services. Business rightfully so is not a charity so individuals who are always looking for a handout with no effort on their part should be less wealthy.

August 20 2013 at 11:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Any person that would pay New York City luxury housing prices and live close or next to poor people would have to be somewhat unbalanced.

August 20 2013 at 7:38 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Davie2743's comment

Does that mean that being poor is the new black?

August 20 2013 at 10:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to boowah's comment

no little boobo--it means why the hell would you PAY THAT RENT to have section 8 crap next to you or EVEN IN THE SAME BUILDING.....and living there basically RENT FREE and all their nice friends hanging out in the hallways and entrances--

you think THEY put the elderly on a fixed income in there as the certain quota ?

August 21 2013 at 1:07 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

This is about housing and the costs of living in New York City. Why are you introducing political nonesense into the discussion? Stick to the topic at hand and propose ideas; not just criticisms reflecting your political bias.


Look here Steve who the heck do you think you are. I'll post whatever I want when I want.

August 20 2013 at 6:51 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

That's how leftists like it. They are wealthy, and everyone else has zero, zilch, nada.

August 20 2013 at 6:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to falcngnzx2's comment


either literally distance wise or via doorman/announced visitors etc.

August 21 2013 at 1:08 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

It is that way everywhere on a smaller scale.

August 20 2013 at 5:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

So what are you proposing? It all gets re-distributed whacked up evenly? Who cares? NYC has been that way since the Dutch owned it.

August 20 2013 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow and its a progressive, high taxing, liberal stronghold for Obama. How can that be? I thought the progressive stance was to redistribute wealth and share and share alike. Doesn't seem to work out does it ?

August 20 2013 at 4:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply