New York’s two classes: “the poor and the rich”

We hear a lot about the growing divide between the rich and poor in the U.S., but also in New York.

Middle-class enclaves are disappearing. Moderate-income residents can’t afford the city’s crazy-high housing prices.

None of this would be news to New Yorkers in the late 19th century.

“Strangers coming to New York are struck by the fact that there are but two classes in the city—the poor and the rich,” states James D.McCabe in his 1872 book Lights and Shadows of New York Life.

“The middle class, which is so numerous in other cities, hardly exists at all here,” writes McCabe.

“The reason of this is plain to the initiated. Living in New York is so expensive that persons of moderate means reside in the suburbs, some of them as far as forty miles in the country.”

A later chapter in the book, from which the excerpt above was taken, may sound strangely familiar to residents today.

[First and third images: NYPL Digital Collection, 1869]

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