Brooklyn™ vs Brooklyn

It’s way too easy to wander down a street or two in Brooklyn (especially if it’s, say, Franklin Avenue) and get the impression, “This borough is really taking off!” (It helps if your idea of “taking off” involves Asian fusion cuisine, or vintage vinyl records.) But what do the actual numbers show about how Brooklyn overall has changed in recent years? Let’s ask the Census bureau’s treasure trove of statistics whether our impressions match the reality.

First off, everyone knows that Brooklyn is full of people with money now. (Patrick Stewart! That woman who played the secret agent car in Cars 2!) How many, exactly, have arrived during Brooklyn’s boom times?

Brooklyn households earning more than $200,000 per year

2005: 20,026
2012: 39,332

That’s a hefty jump in residents earning at the top of the income scale. (In case you were wondering, an annual income of over $200,000 puts a household in the richest 6% of Americans.) Though in a borough of 2.5 million, it’s still a spit in the bucket.

And what, if anything, has that influx of wealth meant for Brooklyn’s population as a whole? For, say, the number of Brooklynites living below the poverty line?

It’s a picture that tracks the U.S. poverty rate pretty closely, though clearly Brooklyn is slowly improving compared to the nation as a whole — or at least was until 2008. Poverty rates improved a lot in the 1990s (as they did for the U.S. as a whole), then worsened during the post-dotcom recession, got better again in the mid-00s, and finally soared again after Lehman Brothers broke the economy, to the point where there are a higher percentage of people in Brooklyn now living below the poverty line than there were in 1989.

Put the two together, and you have a clear sign of the long-term hollowing out of the middle class and rise in inequality, something that you may have heard from time to time. But is a Brooklyn where the rich and the poor rub elbows on the L train inherently a bad thing? Does it matter to the residents of East New York whether someone in Williamsburg is living in a 10,000-square-foot mansion?

For that, let’s compare the Brooklyn poverty rate with median rents in the borough:


And one more, to account for inflation:

Now, median rent numbers aren’t perfect — they only tell us what the middle is paying, after all, not the richest or poorest Brooklynites. And they exclude public housing, which accounts for a lot of the apartments that those 600,000 poor people live in. But it is an indication that even as Brooklyn has gotten poorer since the economic crash, rents have continued to skyrocket.

Here’s another way of gauging the increasing gap between housing costs and Brooklynites’ ability to pay: The Census benchmark for determining whether housing is “unaffordable” is if households are paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs (either rent or mortgage payments). According to this report by the New York state comptroller’s office, the percentage of Brooklyn households paying unaffordable housing costs was 43% in 2000, but jumped to 52.5% by 2012 — that’s about 237,000 more people.

Now, some of that is because of falling incomes and not just rising rents. But either way, that’s an awful lot of Brooklynites having to stretch their paychecks in order to keep a roof over their heads. Even if it’s not all Patrick Stewart’s fault.


Oh, right, the Kickstarter! Huge thanks to everyone who’s helped push this campaign past the halfway mark (we’re at 58% as I write this, with nine days to go), especially those of you who have both pledged money and spread the word to your friends via Facebook, Twitter, email, and Pigeonnet. There’s still another $2,480 to go, though, so I’m going to need another 25 funders at the $100 level, or 62 funders at the $40 level … you get the picture. So keep those phones ringing!