New York is slowly recovering from the damaging floodwaters and winds of Superstorm Sandy. And what we’re seeing in the aftermath is how the burden natural disasters invariably falls on the shoulders of those least equipped to cope. Nowithstanding the human interest stories about trying to find an outlet to charge cell phones, the real victims of this storm are old, disabled and/or poor. They represent the majority of those still without power. They live in the areas more likely to be inaccessible to rescue efforts. They are among the 250,000 trapped in the dark in Manhattan. They are the ones most at risk of disease and illness.
As David Rohde writes, the storm exposed the yawning inequality gap in one of the richest cities in the world.
Sandy humbled every one of the 19 million people in the New York City metropolitan area. But it humbled some more than others in an increasingly economically divided city [...]
Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.
New census data shows that the city is the most economically divided it has been in a decade, according to the New York Times. As has occurred across the country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Twenty-one percent of the city is in poverty, and the median household income decreased by $821 annually. Per the Times: “Median income for the lowest fifth was $8,844, down $463 from 2010. For the highest, it was $223,285, up $1,919.”
Manhattan, the city’s wealthiest and most gentrified borough, is an extreme example. Inequality here rivals parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Last year the wealthiest 20 percent of Manhattan residents made $391,022 a year on average, according to census data. The poorest 20 percent made $9,681.
Think Namibia for inequality statistics like that. Think Sierra Leone. And this gap becomes most visible in a time of crisis.
Lots of things must get fixed in New York to prepare for the new reality of global warming-fueled disasters. The city must bulk up its infrastructure and create more barriers to storm surges. But the economic makeup of the city must get fixed as well. The people who make New York City run do not deserve to live they way they must when disaster strikes. They don’t deserve their everyday life, either.