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Hard to be thankful this Thanksgiving Day in a city with 1.6 million living in poverty
New York Daily News
Albor Ruiz

November 23, 2011
View the Original Article


Passage of Fair Wages bill would help end inequality
Faith Leaders gather at City Hall last week to deliver post cards to Council member demanding passage of Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.
Call me a party pooper if you will, but this year writing about Thanksgiving has, ironically, become a thankless proposition.

The good wishes for readers and all New Yorkers have not changed, of course: They are as strong and sincere as ever. But the sad fact is that for many people in our city there is not much to be thankful for.

It’s not easy to be upbeat when the Census shows that New York continues to be the nation’s undisputed champion of income inequality.

This is a place where one in five city residents live in poverty, the highest level since 2000, while the 57 billionaires who make New York their home — Mayor Bloomberg the most prominent of them — are making out like bandits: Now they are worth $211 billion, more than $11 billion richer than last year.

It’s almost unimaginable, but these 57 individuals now have as much money as — listen to this — 14 million people working full time at minimum wage salaries for a year, according to a new analysis of Forbes data by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

One has to wonder how much is enough for them.

“While city and state officials have spent years denying the extent of the poverty and inequality here, the new data leaves no doubt that poverty is soaring, while inequality is surging,” said Joel Berg, the coalition’s executive director. “The fact that 57 people now have as much money as 4 million working families is nothing short of obscene.”

It is obscene all right, and the more you find out about the rising inequality in the city, the more obscene it becomes.

According to the new Census data, median household income in the city is $48,743, or 5% less than in 2007. While the richest New Yorkers increased their fortunes to new heights, from 2009 to 2010, 75,000 city residents fell below the federal poverty line ($18,310 for a family of three), the largest yearly hike in two decades.

Imagine, if you can, a family of three surviving in New York, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., on less than $20,000. Only by the grace of God.

No, it’s not easy to be cheerful this Thanksgiving when the total number of poor New Yorkers has reached 1.6 million, equaling 20.1% of the population.

That’s why it is so infuriating to hear Bloomberg, who has never had to to worry about how to pay the rent or where the next meal will come from, make ridiculous statements like: “The last time people tried to set rates, basically, was in the Soviet Union. And that didn’t work out very well.”

He was referring to the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act — the living wage bill — about which the City Council held a public hearing yesterday.

For Bloomberg the bill is tantamount to communism, but for the hundreds of thousands of his constituents who scrape a living on poverty wages it is a very small measure of long overdue economic justice.

The act would mandate firms that get city tax breaks to pay workers $10 an hour, plus benefits — up from the current $7.25 minimum hourly wage — obviously not nearly enough either.

It has 30 co-sponsors but nothing in the Council comes to a vote without Speaker Chrsitine Quinn’s backing. So far she has not taken a position.

It would be great if Quinn would put aside her mayoral aspirations long enough to support this bill that would benefit so many hard working New Yorkers.

That would be something to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

aruiz@nydailynews.com.