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Is New York No Longer The Land Of Opportunity?

October 12, 2015

New York Metropolitan Area Residents Feel Trapped by Economic Insecurity, According to New Public Agenda/WNYC Survey; Most Say Government Responds to the Wealthy, Not Them


New York City – – Many residents of New York City and the greater metropolitan region feel stuck in the face of rising costs, stagnating wages and diminishing opportunity, according to a new survey from Public Agenda and WNYC.

According to the survey, residents are alarmed about their poor economic prospects and the growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else. They say that the government is not doing an adequate job addressing these issues, a concern coupled with a sense that the wealthy have a disproportionate influence on government.

The survey was conducted by Public Agenda with over 1500 people across New York City and surrounding suburbs in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. It paints a picture of an increasingly unaffordable metropolitan area where the costs of housing, living expenses, education and taxes are threatening people’s ability to make ends meet:

  • 86 percent say the high cost of living is a serious problem
  • 80 percent say the high cost of housing is a serious problem
  • 77 percent say high taxes are a serious problem
  • 73 percent the high cost of college is a serious problem

Majorities of residents also worry about the lack of well-paying and secure jobs (65 percent say this is a serious problem), as well as the lack of affordable health care (58 percent say this is a serious problem). These concerns cut across demographics and geography, though lower income residents throughout the region and residents of New York City proper are most acutely worried about rising costs and economic instability.

“It’s especially interesting to me that the survey found such a widespread feeling that both the poor and middle class are having a difficult time regardless of how hard they work, even as the top few percent of earners gather an increasing share of wealth and income,” said Brian Lehrer, host of WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. “These findings also add empirical weight to the stories I hear from listeners to my show on a regular basis.”

At the same time, the survey reveals complex attitudes toward the wealthy. Nearly three quarters — 73 percent – of metropolitan area residents feel that it’s ok for wealthy people to get wealthier as long as everyone else also has a good chance to get ahead. However, 74 percent say that the middle class is facing more insecurity than ever before, and 65 percent say the gap in income between the rich and everyone else is a serious problem in their community.

“People in the New York region certainly don’t resent wealth,” said Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda. “But they do have a serious problem when they see the rich getting richer while most people work hard and aren’t getting ahead, or when they see the wealthy having outsized influence over decisions that affect everyone’s lives.”

Seven in 10 residents of the region say the wealthiest people have the most influence in government decisions. Residents also don’t have confidence that the government will adequately address the issues they view as the most serious. Half of New York metropolitan area residents (52 percent) say the government is doing a mostly bad job when it comes to addressing the gap between the rich and everyone else; just 14 percent say the government is doing a mostly good job. Residents are similarly dissatisfied with the government’s performance addressing issues like the costs of housing and college.

“Those living in the New York metropolitan area may feel trapped in a bad economic situation, but they are also resilient and ready for action to turn things around,” said Friedman. “There are a number of policy solutions that many seem ready to endorse. A lot of area residents are also willing to volunteer their own time in order to see progress.”

Among the policy approaches residents of the New York metropolitan region support:

  • 79 percent say they mostly favor more government spending on public colleges so that students can study without taking out loans
  • 61 percent say they mostly favor tax breaks for developers to build more affordable housing
  • 80 percent mostly favor tax breaks for new companies to bring jobs to their area

In order to make greater investments in higher education and affordable housing, 7 in 10 of the region’s residents also support raising taxes on the wealthy and on large corporations. Residents of New York City and the greater metropolitan region are also open to collaborating with their neighbors on solutions to the problems they identify. Typically 2 in 3 people who see a problem say they are willing to work with other residents to advocate or find solutions. Those that perceive the issue to be very serious are even more likely to say they are willing to actively participate.

Public Agenda and WNYC will use the survey results to inform efforts to foster better public dialogue around the issues that residents care about most and engage residents on solutions to those issues.

“We’re excited to work with Public Agenda to understand how different kinds of people throughout the greater New York metropolitan area are experiencing economic and civic life in this era after the financial crisis and going into the 2016 election year,” said Lehrer. “I like that Public Agenda’s opinion research measures the attitudes of people in the inner and outer New York City suburbs in addition to the city itself. That’s different from most polls, which usually just look at the city or the state. I look forward to using the data to help WNYC lead the conversation about the issues facing the people of our area and government responsiveness to their concerns.”


About the Public Agenda/ WNYC New York Metro Area Survey

The Public Agenda/ WNYC New York Metro Area Survey was conducted between June 29 and July 21, 2015 with 1,535 residents in the New York metro area, including New York City, Long Island, Southern New York State, Northern New Jersey, and Southern Connecticut. Additional responses were collected from 219 residents on a small subset of questions between August 25 and September 4, 2015. Data were collected via phone, including cellphone, and online, and weighted to be representative of known demographics in the region. See for a full description of the questions asked in the survey, complete survey responses and a comprehensive methodology report.

About Public Agenda

Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at @PublicAgenda.

About WNYC

From its state-of-the-art studios in New York City, WNYC is reshaping audio for a new generation of listeners with groundbreaking, innovative radio programs and podcasts including Radiolab, Freakonomics Radio, On the Media, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, Death, Sex & Money and Note to Self among others. With an urban vibrancy and a global perspective, WNYC is America’s most listened-to public radio station and the home to an award-winning newsroom of 70 journalists.



Vania Andre Public Agenda
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