"In a city like New York, where everything is superlative, who exactly is middle class? What kind of salary are we talking about? Where does a middle-class person live? And could the relentless rise in real estate prices push the middle class to extinction?"
These are the questions that drive O'Leary in her search for what defines "middle class" among Manhattan's 1.6 million residents, in what is "probably the only place in the United States where a $5.5 million condo with a teak closet and mother-of-pearl wall tile shares a block with a public housing project."
"The average Manhattan apartment, at $3,973 a month, costs almost $2,800 more than the average rental nationwide. The average sale price of a home in Manhattan last year was $1.46 million, according to a recent Douglas Elliman report, while the average sale price for a new home in the United States was just under $230,000. The middle class makes up a smaller proportion of the population in New York than elsewhere in the nation."
"And yet the middle class stubbornly hangs on," says O'Leary, "trading economic pain for the emotional gain of hot restaurants, the High Line and the feeling of being in the center of everything. The price tag for life’s basic necessities — everything from milk to haircuts to Lipitor to electricity, and especially housing — is more than twice the national average."
O'Leary considers the definition of “middle class” through five different lenses: Income, Profession, Household Size, Length of Residence, and Values.