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The Woes of Young Working-Class Heroes

Young, educated city natives are being forced to pit their financial needs against their geographic desires in a battle against gentrification.
June 20, 2012, 10am PDT | Emily Williams
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The recession has set off a domino effect of gentrification across the country, as rising rents force the middle-class population out of the neighborhoods they grew up in and into lower-income areas, writes Nona Aronowitz. As she puts it, "Young city natives who were raised middle class and are now struggling financially have upper-middle class tastes but working-class or poverty-level incomes." And with the change in location comes a political crisis for many who must now deal with the realization that, from a technical point of view, they have become gentrifiers, whether they like it or not.

Aronowitz describes her own experiences living in New York and shifting gears to a cheaper apartment in Harlem, but, she claims, what she and the younger working-class population in New York are experiencing is happening all over the country. "Young adults with a four-year degree are about 94 percent more likely to live in close-in urban neighborhoods than their less-educated counterparts (up from 61 percent in 2000). Yet many of those same young, educated people are living on the poverty line. Half of recent graduates are either jobless or underemployed."

Some would argue that the struggle to afford living shouldn't be equated to affording a lifestyle. In these hard economic times, 20- and 30-somethings may need to get used to adopting a simpler way of living.

Aronowitz suggests one alternative -- following in the footsteps of those who engaged in a "more constructive" form of gentrification, by relocating to "places like New Orleans, Austin, or the Rust Belt to save money, help with revitalization efforts, or become a big fish in a small pond."

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Published on Friday, June 15, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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