A program that gets low-income New York students out onto the water — into boats they built by hand
By Caitlin Kelly
Have you heard of the Gini coefficient?
It’s a measure of income inequality, invented in 1912 by Italian statistician Corrado Gini.
I pay attention to it since I live in the United States — whose income inequality is the greatest in a century — and grew up in Canada, a nation with a much greater sense of the common good, and which creates public policy accordingly.
I’m also so aware of this because, living in a wealthy county north of New York City, I see it every day.
My town, 25 miles north of New York City, has massively gentrified in the 30 years I’ve lived here, as Brooklyn hipsters, priced out, have stampeded north, bringing man buns and McLaren strollers and Mini Cooper cars with them.
The other day a black Maserati blasted past me on the road and I’ve even seen a Lamborghini in town, a place once mostly filled with dusty Saturns and Civics. Today we have a local restaurant whose owner and whose ambition we love, but we watched three separate customers look at the menu and leave, saying his prices were too high.
And yet, our town retains real diversity — with public housing projects, multi-family homes, many rentals and, recently, million-dollar riverside condos.
I drove into Manhattan the other day to my hair salon and watched a woman laden with shopping bags struggling into her West Village 1800s brownstone townhouse door — a home that today would easily sell for $5 million or more; here’s one — just down the street from my salon — for a cool $28 million.
We are OK, compared to so many Americans, in even having savings, in owning our apartment (OK, still with a damn mortgage!) and having decent health and work.
But it’s bizarre to be surrounded by people with so many more zeros to their annual income, property values and assumptions about what’s “normal” — many women casually sporting a Goyard carryall that sells for $1,150, more than our mortgage payment.
The organ was a $250,000 donation — from one parishioner
We attend a gorgeous little church, built in 1853 by the same architect who designed New York’s famed St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and some parishioners are extremely well-off. (The photos on their website are all by Jose Lopez, my husband.)
Some women live nonchalantly supported by husbands working in corporate law or on Wall Street, in enormous houses. Annoyingly, they seem to think my career in journalism is some cute hobby, as they chirp: “Are you still writing?” or just ignore me because I’m clearly not rich and raising a brood of ferociously ambitious children,
This is the time of year when we’re asked to pledge, i.e. make a firm monthly financial commitment, to the church. There’s a chart in the parish hall showing a small group of people — fewer than 10 — give $20,000 to $30,000 a year, which is more than I’ve earned in some freelance years.
We’re debating how much to give. I admit that we’ve never pledged, but almost always add to the collection plate.
My family of origin had plenty of money, on both sides, and I enjoyed a childhood of material privilege, attending boarding school and summer camp. So wealth doesn’t intimidate me, nor do I spend my days lusting for more stuff.
But American “success” is always predicated on highly visible signs of wealth and power — hence the need for status-signaling clothing, accessories, housing, cars, nannies (some have three), exotic vacations, etc. So if you’re not “keeping up” you must be some sort of loser.
East 70th Street, Manhattan
Jose and I chose a much less lucrative career path, journalism, which is why we drive a 20-year-old Subaru and have lived for decades in a one-bedroom apartment. (We also have decent retirement savings, a less visible decision.)
And yet, you have to be wilfully very ignorant to ignore the incredible poverty that also surrounds us, poverty I finally confronted personally for 18 months when I was a Big Sister to a 13 year old girl, a formal mentoring/matching program.
Sharing a squalid house with a bunch of relatives, her mother having disappeared years before, she lived only a 20-minute drive east across the county from me, but might have lived on another planet. I had never grasped that even knowing how to use a public library was a specific and essential skill for future success in a highly competitive economy; she didn’t know.
It snapped me into a deeper awareness of how wide these divisions are.
I wish I had some smart answer to this.
I do not.
Do you see this kind of income divide in your area?