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Ironic Demographics: Brooklyn Is Dying

What can we learn, if anything, from the drop in median household income in New York City's most populous borough?
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Newer buildings near East River State Park in Brooklyn. (Photo: Billy Hathorn/Wikimedia Commons)

Newer buildings near East River State Park in Brooklyn. (Photo: Billy Hathorn/Wikimedia Commons)

"Brooklyn Is Dying" could refer to the disappearing culture gentrified out of the neighborhood. Instead, I have in mind demographic statistics suggesting decline. Daniel Kay Hertz, "Brooklyn Is Getting Poorer":

I recently ran across a post from data-crunching blog extraordinaire Xenocrypt, which noted that from 1999 to 2011, median household income in Brooklyn fell from $42,852 to $42,752. That’s not a huge drop, obviously, but when you consider that the national median income rose over the same period from about $50,000 to $56,000, it’s not at all a stretch to say that the borough is falling behind, economically. Moreover, if you map (as Xenocrypt did) the borough’s neighborhoods by change in median income, you get a really striking picture ... which is that, indeed, a good three-fifths or so of Brooklyn is actually getting poorer. Have you read any articles about that? No, I will wager that you have not. Neither have I. I strongly suspect that is because they don’t exist – at least not in any outlet that might be considered mainstream.

Brooklyn isn't gentrifying. Brooklyn is dying. Not only is income declining, so are real estate prices. The supposed housing constraints for a city or even a borough aren't having the expected impact on



Hertz refrains from making too much of the data dump: "

I have nothing particularly intelligent to say about this ... except that it’s maybe the most dramatic example I’ve seen yet of just how limiting our fixation on gentrification is.


This is a job for theory. The supply and demand model does a poor job of explaining Brooklyn's variant geography. Marxists are better equipped to make sense of the landscape, linking global forces with neighborhood change. Some parts of Brooklyn are globalizing. Most neighborhoods aren't.

Marx helps us connect the global with the local, the hyperlocal. Geography fills in the rest. Getting priced out of "Brooklyn" has ironic consequences.

Why is anyone priced out of New York City when there are affordable neighborhoods aplenty?

“The middle class is not priced out of the city, but priced out of neighborhoods,” [Seth Pinsky (who ran the city’s Economic Development Corporation under de Blasio’s predecessor Michael Bloomberg)] said at a breakfast panel hosted by advisory and accounting firm EisnerAmper and Bloomberg last Thursday. “While it’s true that some neighborhoods have become unaffordable, others have become more attractive. I think that’s a good thing.

You go where you know. Yes, the rational choice is a cheaper neighborhood. For many displaced Brooklynites, the landing spot might be the next borough over, or

Reading, Pennsylvania

, or

back home to East Lansing, Michigan

. The result is demand piling up in a few spots with ample inexpensive supply sometimes a few blocks away, off the mental map.

There's no place like home. On one hand, we have the economics of shelter. On the other, we have the politics of home. The gentrification debate is about the politics of home, not the economics of shelter. See Brooklyn.