The Price We Pay1

Posted by Deirdre // 08-13-2013


So often in Brooklyn — at least on this blog — we talk about how “rich” life might be elsewhere, with more green space and less garbage and less hustle and bustle. One of those dream towns (or cities) is San Francisco — the weather, the food, the diversity…I could go on. Fact is, the Bay Area is, as they say out West, hella expensive, too. Thanks to my friend Angelina for sending The Price of Urban Family Living, my way, because it could have come directly from a post here (except of course it was in the NY Times).

“If we want to live in a good school zone, our rent increases significantly. If we want more square footage, we give up a safer neighborhood. If we splurge on groceries, then we cannot eat out that week. While other parents send their children on a carousel of after-school enrichment activities, we debate whether ballet class or a swim lesson is worth more than an investment in a college savings bond. We stretch our budgets while our choices shrink and sacrifices grow, making us wonder how long we can afford urban living”.

So I guess we can feel better that we’re not alone? Cross San Francisco off of the What if/Maybe/Someday list? The article, in the NY Times’ often great Motherlode Blog, stems from the recent release of the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator, which the author uses to basically give herself a lesson in shame and disrespect since her family’s is of course completely out of sync with the recommended budget. So for a hoot, I did ours. Here’s what came up:

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I’ll wait for you to catch your breath.  Now, to be fair, our child care costs are a lot lower since my kids are in school and I “work” from home so we only pay a sitter a few hours a week. And our transportation in NYC is probably less, though if you factor in a few cabs from Manhattan and gas to get out of the city twice a month, I bet it adds up. If you park your car in a lot, there you have it. Food and housing is where it is seriously LAUGHABLE. The last time I paid close to $1474 was when I lived in Carroll Gardens in 1999, in a small 1 bedroom, which probably goes for at least $1800 a month now and is less than workable for a family of four. If you work in Manhattan and don’t take your lunch to work, you’re spending around $12 a day on lunch. Plus coffee and a bagel in the morning another $4 — $320 a month, per person. This is before groceries. And weekend lunches, or maybe even going out to dinner.  Not to be crass, but does a pedicure fall into the “other necessities”? (I know it sounds haughty to some and was kind of meant as a joke, but if you’re a woman working in NYC in many fields, it really is a necessity.)

If you’re interested, take a look at some of the comments of the article, too. One is from a guy at the EPI, the organization that produced the budget. He notes that they did it to show how inadequate most wages are, and that this is to show what it would take to “just get by,” or as they say on the EPI site, “the income a family needs in order to attain a secure yet modest living standard.” $93,502 seems like a lot of money for just getting by. And we all know that sadly it takes significantly more, so I guess it’s somewhat of a relief (?) to see that on paper.