Saturday, October 9, 2010

New York, New York

Hello from a sunny Union Square, Manhattan. We’ve come here for a couple of days as Mr TD has a conference on. Its the first time I’ve visited New York as a mum and I’ve found the city surprisingly family friendly. There’s an astonishing amount of stuff on for kids, crossing the road with a pram has proved far easier than doing so without one and a number of locals have even found time to stop and coo at Little Teadrinker. They are also positively brimming with parenting advice. So far this morning I’ve had: “Your baby needs to get oudda da sun”, “You awda cover her feet”, “Dat’s bread ain’t sowft enough for her”... Its at least reassuring to know that, despite American aversion to nanny statism, Hilary Clinton’s favourite African proverb has some currency round here: “It takes a village city to raise a child”.

Sadly, my enthusiasm for the city appears to shared by ever smaller proportions of those living here. Two million New Yorkers have left the State over the past decade and census data shows that New York leads the nation with net out-migration of 20 to 35 year olds. In other words, many are going at about the time they start to think about becoming parents.

What’s driving the exodus? The picture those I've spoken to paint feels familiar enough to me as a Londoner. People with kids leave Manhattan, and then New York looking for more space. They leave because childcare is expensive and they’re nervous about the public school system. And they leave because they want to be able to afford to spend less time with their nose to the grind stone, and more with their children.

A quick look at home economics suggests that the pressures on New York families could well be more accute than for their counterparts in London. The University of Washington, who calculate the New York “Self-Sufficiency Standard” every year, find that to get by with a basic standard of living a Brooklyn family with two adults, a school-aged child, and a preschooler, for example, needs to earn $68,288 a year ($5,691 a month).  That works out as $16.17 (£10.13) per hour for each adult and is more than what half the workers in the city earn.  The Greater London Authority’s London Living Wage, which is the London equivalent, is by contrast pegged at a mere £7.85 ($12.53) per hour. And of course, Londoners on low wages are likely to be able to access a far greater range of benefits and tax breaks. In the US, financial support for a family of this size doesn't generally kick in until they have an income of less than around $22k - less than one-third of the Self-Sufficiency Standard.

In the aftermath of "The Great Recession", prospects for turning this round don't look heartening. Job creation is a major New York Mid-term election issue, but from a glance at the campaign literature low wages and the high cost of living don’t even figure. Lets hope the political masters turn their attention to the issue before the rush out of New York becomes a stampeed...

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