A Report on the State of the City’s Middle Class
CHRISTINE C. QUINN
In 1997, the New York City Council issued a report entitled “Hollow in the Middle: The Rise and Fall of New York City’s Middle Class”.1 Two concerns motivated the report. The first stemmed from the observation that cities such as New York City (the City) need a middle class in order to thrive. For many cities a declining middle class imposed political, economic and social forces that made it impossible for a city to grow. Evidence abounded that for some time, and in much of the country, the middle class and jobs had been moving to the suburbs. The decline of cities like Newark, Camden and East Saint Louis was the period’s nightmare.
These fears, however, were not only a product of the late 1990s. The consequences of a shrinking middle class were observed by writers even as far back as Aristotle who wrote in his Politics that the lack of a middle class threatens the stability of a city.2 He suggests that a healthy middle class is needed in order to balance the interests of the rich and the poor. Modern economists like Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz talk today about how inequality can undermine cooperation and trust in a society.3 Even Jane Jacobs noted that a middle class is necessary for a socially cohesive society.