In 2003, I traveled from Lodi to New York to spend a few days at Christmas time in the Big Apple. I had lived in New York for many years during the 1960s and 1970s, and had fond memories that I wanted to relive. By 2003, New York was on its way to recovery from the 9/11 attacks. The city had begun to rebound.
After returning home, I wrote my weekly Lodi News-Sentinel column about my trip's highlights — although "highlights" isn't the right word. My observation that generated the most reader interest was my story about having to put down a cash deposit on a pot roast. Sure, Lobel's is Martha Stewart's favorite meat market, and the roast was terrific. But no tourist that I know has ever been able to top my pot roast story as the most outrageous example of the cost to move around New York.
By the time you read this column, I'll be headed back to New York for another Christmas season. I can't report directly on current costs for the obvious reason that I'm not there yet. But I can share with you that two Broadway show tickets, dinner at a medium-scale restaurant and a taxi comes dangerously close to a wallet-breaking four figures.
While I'm fully prepared to enjoy my Manhattan days, a story I recently read threatens to take much of the fun out of my trip. According to a recent news report, New York has the greatest income disparity of any major U.S. city. While income inequality is rampant throughout America, only in New York is the gap between rich and poor at sub-Saharan Africa levels, as the New York Times reported. According to Census Bureau data, the median income for New York's lowest-fifth earners was $8,844, down $463 from 2010. For the highest, it was $223,285, up $1,919.
The 400 richest Americans' wealth has increased more than fivefold during the past 20 years. As the nation struggles to regain its pre-recession prosperity, the wealthy have benefited the most. During the recovery's first full year, the top 1 percent of earners netted 93 percent of the income gains. Ironically, New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the world's richest men. Forbes magazine estimates his net worth at $25 billion.
Income inequality feeds on itself. To stimulate the economy, money needs to pass from one group to another. When it's concentrated in one group, the economy dies.
The huge income gap has been growing for years. No immediate solutions are apparent. But a good place to start would be to increase the minimum wage, an idea that politicians treat as toxic, and for corporate chief executive officers to reduce their salaries while raising those of the support staff. An honest congressional debate about the U.S. wage structure could result in immediate corrective legislation. If Obama can move fast on gun control, he can do it on wages, too.
Over the long term, America needs to restore manufacturing jobs where an individual could earn a decent wage, participate in a pension plan and have company-paid health coverage. Since outsourcing has been in vogue for decades, returning to a manufacturing-based economy is a challenge.
Next week, I'll do my best to help New Yorkers out — stay away from the big retail giants, eat at smaller, family-owned restaurants and tip more generously. These are, to be sure, small gestures — but important ones that may make someone's life more comfortable at Christmas.
Joe Guzzardi worked for the Lodi Unified School District. He wishes his readers a Merry Christmas. Contact Joe at email@example.com.