Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cost of Living

Just finished reading "Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara" by his one-time lover/10-year roommate Joe LeSueur. One thing that stood out to me, as always in memoirs about life in NYC in the '50s/'60s, was the rent they paid for a small 2-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side in 1955: $50 per month. Whenever I see a crazily low price like that, I always tell myself: "Oh, that must be the equivalent of $2000 nowadays." Not so. There's a neat site out there -- the US Inflation Calculator -- that will let you plug in prices from 1913 on to determine what that price would be today. If you paid $50 for an apartment in NYC in 1955, that price today would be...$433.83. (And that's with an inflation rate of 767.7% since 1955.)

Of course, Lower East Side 2-bedrooms ARE going for at least $2000 these days. Which just kills me. If such apartments were indeed $433 (the 1955 equivalent) today, then, yeah, creative people with lowly jobs at bookstores and libraries and restaurants and such (i.e., anything not corporate or government-funded) could still afford to live there. As is, a whole class of people is being denied the wonders of New York. (Me included!) Before I moved there in 2007, I'd heard people bitchin' about, "Oh, it's so expensive!" At the time, I thought ignorantly, "Well, you must have not WANTED it enough!" Or, "Oh, you must have expensive tastes!"

When I was there, I oh-so-WANTED to stay... But at a rent of $1550 (in Weehawken, NJ, across the Hudson, not even any part of Manhattan!), the money I was making at midnight shifts of proofreading -- even at $20 an hour -- wouldn't allow it. Even 50-hour weeks at a minimum-wage bookstore or waitress job (or even stocking groceries) wouldn't have come close to allowing it.

$433.83 a month would have allowed it. It's a shame what's happened. Unless your parents live in the area (whether Queens or further upstate or Long Island, etc.) and you live with them or they're subsidizing you, you can't afford to be a person just starting out there.

p.s. Austin's now a hot place to live, and the rents reflect it. I'm currently paying $650 for a 400-sq-ft one-room apartment in a central location. For fun, I also plugged into the Inflation Calculator the monthly price I paid for the same-size apartment (though a garage apartment in an even more desirable neighborhood) back in 1989: $250. Today's price adjusted for inflation would be $468.81. Unless I break down and get a government/corporate job that I don't particularly want to get, I'm going to also be priced out of not just my dream-location of NYC but also the town I've lived primarily in for the past 30 years. (Not to mention the fact: Who really wants to live in a one-room apartment once you're past the age of 30??)

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