2013-05-04 09:21:43 UTC
Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!
City officials may say the economic outlook looks bright, but
even workers with fulltime jobs in the city arent buying it.
"Whaddayou, a comedian?" wisecracked Edward Mercado, a veteran
and CWA union rep at Elmhurst Hospital, where members haven't
had a raise for four years. "People are working really hard, and
it used to be paycheck to paycheck, but the paycheck doesn't
even last one week anymore."
Mayor Bloomberg's Center for Economic Opportunity just released
a report that found that in 2011 New York workers stopped their
financial freefall that started with the recession.
The only problem is, before the freefall ended, almost half of
all New Yorkers landed below or near the poverty line, which is
$30,949 a year for a family of four before taxes. The center's
Dr. Mark Levitan said that 46% of New York City families that
have two kids bring in less than $46,416 a year, putting a huge
chunk of the city in the poor or "almost-poor" category.
It's rough to be "almost-poor": You don't qualify for food
stamps or most other benefits. Sara J., a mother of two babies
in Queens, which saw the biggest increase of the boroughs in
folks who fell into poverty, explained, "Everything went up
except my husband's pay. He's a cook and hasn't had a raise in
years. But you go to the supermarket and the prices are up.
And clothes went up. We had to cut our cable and anything
Ardea Raniel works fulltime as a registered nurse, yet the $25
it costs to visit her sister in New Jersey is a luxury. She has
cut out trips to Manhattan, the movies, and more. "People think
everybody in New York has money, but actually, it's not true."
"They don't understand what it's like for poor people," said
Charles Francis, who is grateful to have a job as a receiving
clerk after so many of his friends have lost their jobs. But he
admits it's a struggle. "The rent is up, transit went up, but
the salaries have stayed the same."
Both Francis and Mercado said they sometimes had to borrow money
to pay the bills, as has "almost everybody we know," said
In Jackson Heights, utility worker Michael Franco at age 25
still tries to find the cash "to go out and have fun" with his
friends, he said. "But I had to sell my car. The gas, the
tickets, the parking -- it was all too much."
In Jamaica, Steve Reinberg of Big Apple Pawnbrokers said hes
seen a spike in business in recent years from people who have
jobs. "We have nurses coming in in scrubs. They may bring in
jewelry to pawn or sell and they say they have to pay their gas
bill or their phone bill." It got most dire during the
recession, Reinberg said, when "people came in and tried to sell
us their gold teeth."
Jilly Stephens, the executive director of City Harvest, which
feeds million New Yorkers each year with food rescued from
restaurants and hotels, has seen more people with jobs on the
lines of the pantries and soup kitchens they supply.
"We see many working residents struggle to pay their bills each
month, and they turn to emergency food for themselves and their
families," Stephens said. "Working families often fall between
the gap where poverty officially ends and self-sufficiency
begins, and nowhere is this more evident than in New York City.
Many households earn too much to be eligible for food stamps,
but they still need food."
Despite hard times, New Yorkers, no matter where they hover
around the poverty line, still show the love. When gyro vendor
Evangelis Bardis said that layoffs in companies along Broadway
in Elmhurst had cut his business 40%, loyal customer Samuel
Lecler said, "I'll still buy, because they're delicious. Even if
your prices go up, I'll still buy."