Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a
hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the
city's cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left
their loved ones at home.
New census data shows that the city is the most economically divided it has been in a decade, according to the New York Times.
As has occurred across the country, the rich are getting richer and the
poor are getting poorer. Twenty-one percent of the city is in poverty,
and the median household income decreased by $821 annually. Per the Times: "Median income for the lowest fifth was $8,844, down $463 from 2010. For the highest, it was $223,285, up $1,919."
Manhattan, the city's wealthiest and most gentrified borough, is an
extreme example. Inequality here rivals parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Last year the wealthiest 20 percent of Manhattan residents made $391,022
a year on average, according to census data. The poorest 20 percent made $9,681.
All told, Manhattan's richest fifth made 40 times more money than its
poorest fifth, up from 38 times in 2010. Only a handful of developing
countries - such as Namibia and Sierra Leone - have higher inequality
In the Union Square area, New York's privileged - including myself -
could have dinner, order a food delivery and pick up supplies an hour or
two before Sandy made landfall. The cooks, cashiers and hotel workers
who stayed at work instead of rushing home made that possible.
They were a diverse group. Some were young people in their twenties.
Others were middle-aged Americans who had never landed white-collar
jobs. Most were immigrants.
On the other end of the wealth spectrum, New York's age-old excesses
emerged. Some families brought their nannies to the hotel to help care
for their children through the hurricane. Others panicked when the power
went off. All the while, waiters, maids and doormen continued to help
The storm affected the affluent as well. Tourists and business people
from Boston, California, Britain and Japan were stranded in our hotel.
They found themselves without power, water or transportation, and
completely at the mercy of strangers.
But the city's heroes were the tens of thousands of policemen,
firefighters, utility workers and paramedics who labored all night for
$40,000 to $90,000 a year. And the local politicians who focused on
performance, not partisanship, such as New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Newark Mayor Corey
Twenty-four hours after the disaster, ugly political lines were already being drawn. Democrats pounced on a statement
by Mitt Romney in a Republican primary debate last year that disaster
response should be shifted to the states and, where possible,
privatized. Michael Brown, the much criticized director of the Federal
Emergency Management Agency under George W. Bush, argued that the Obama
administration had responded more quickly to Hurricane Sandy than it did
to the terrorist attack in Benghazi.