On Labor Day, it is worth remembering how much New York City owes to immigration and immigrant labor---and how the growth of inequality threatens to undermine the contributions of both.
The recovery of New York from the bleak Seventies, Eighties and early Nineties has been driven to an important degree by immigration. Newcomers to New York have saved us from the population loss that has drained smaller cities of their vitality, while immigrant labor has been an important force in the vigor of the New York City economy.
But in the long run, poor and working-class immigrants will revive New City only to the extent that they can settle in, make a decent living, and embark on the path to a middle class standard of living. That's why a recent report on the growth of inequality in the New York metropolitan area is so disturbing: it raises the spectre of a New York metropolitan area where the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. And nowhere, the report, says, is this trend greater than in Manhattan.
Manhattan is in danger of becoming what one of my friends calls "another Monaco--an island of rich people and their servants." If that trend spreads to the rest of the city, immigrant New Yorkers who came here to work their way to a better standard of living will find themselves socially isolated, priced out of housing, and locked into a treadmill of low-wage work with no exit. In the long run, that is a disaster for them and for New York City.
The labor movement in New York City may be weak, but the city still needs to reward work with a decent standard of living and the prospect of earning your way to a better future. Anything less puts the city's future in jeopardy.