One World Trade Center looms over lower Manhattan as children play basketball. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Where do the five boroughs live and work?

In his election campaign three years ago, Bill de Blasio famously targeted the $1,000 caviar-pizza-eating wealthiest of New York City in his “tale of two cities” speech, which called attention to the city’s fading middle class and ever-widening gap between the rich and poor.

Writing here just a few months before de Blasio made that famous speech, I outlined the geography of those class divides. The affluent creative class of knowledge workers, professionals, artists, and media workers clustered in Manhattan and adjacent parts of Brooklyn; the growing class of food service, retail, office/clerical, and personal care workers spread across the outer boroughs. And the blue-collar working class was in full retreat.

Working with my colleague Steven Pedigo at the NYU School of Professional Studies Urban Lab at the Schack Institute of Real Estate, we took a fresh look at the city’s divided class structure for the three main employment classes (the creative, service, and working class) across two dimensions: the places where they work and the places they live. We did this for the city as a whole and for each of the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island. Our data on work and employment come mainly from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as organized and updated by EMSI, while the data for place of residence come from the 2015 American Community Survey.

Class Total Jobs Share of Jobs Average Salary Total Residents Share of Residents
Creative Class 1,470,308 35.50% $88,000 1,460,582 38.60%
Service Class 1,995,533 48.30% $38,900 1,585,174 41.90%
Working Class 665,983 16.10% $43,000 741,111 19.60%

The chart above shows the pattern for the city as a whole. The advantaged creative class now numbers nearly 1.5 million workers, 35 percent of the city’s jobs and 38.6 percent of its residents, averaging $88,000 in wages and salary a year. The service class is even larger, numbering nearly 2 million workers, almost half of the city’s workforce. But they’re only 42 percent its residents—perhaps a product of this class being priced out of the city. Indeed, the members of this class make just $38,900 on average. The working class, once the dominant class in the city, now comprises less than a fifth of those who live in the city and just 16 percent of the city’s workforce.


Times Square on August 17, 2011. (Lucas Jackson)
Class Jobs Share of Borough Jobs Share of NYC Jobs Salary Residents Share of Borough Residents
Creative Class 1,033,516 40.0% 70.0% $96,970 502,259 58.70%
Service Class 1,214,429 47.0% 61.0% $46,051 279,319 32.60%
Working Class 336,793 13.0% 51.0% $43,118 73,638 8.60%

Manhattan is the city’s largest economy* and its dominant employer, home to nearly all of the city’s 116 billionaires and $2.1 billion in venture capital-financed startups—plus almost six in ten members of its creative class.

It is the source of employment for roughly half of the city’s blue-collar working class, 60 percent of its service class and 70 percent of its creative class. Manhattan creatives pull down nearly $100,000 a year, more than double the average for the city as a whole. Furthermore, the creative class makes up nearly 60 percent of all those who live in Manhattan.

Service jobs makes up 47 percent of Manhattan jobs, but less than a third of its residents. The working class makes up 13 percent of the borough’s jobs and a staggeringly low 8.6 percent of its residents.

Manhattan has become a place for and of the advantaged creative class, with much, much smaller than average shares of the other classes, who are priced out of this increasingly expensive borough, where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $4,500 and the average condo sells for $2,887,400.

The arts, design, and media cluster, which accounts for more than 37 percent of its creative class, has more than three times the concentration than the national average.


(Mike Norton/flickr)
Class Jobs Share of Borough Jobs Share of NYC Jobs Salary Residents Share of Borough Residents
Creative Class 180,708 29.9% 12.3% $74,963 412,453 37.0%
Service Class 312,315 51.7% 15.7% $29,370 478,009 42.9%
Working Class 110,528 18.3% 16.6% $37,461 223,153 20.7%

Brooklyn has essentially evolved into bedroom community for the creative class, with a far greater share of creative class residents than workers or jobs. More than 400,000 members of the creative class call the borough home, 37 percent of its residents. Less than half that number work there, though—less than 30 percent of the borough’s workforce. Their salaries are about 22 percent less than their Manhattan peers. The borough accounts for just 12 percent of the city’s creative class jobs.

Service workers make up more than half the borough’s workforce, which is on par with service- and tourism-oriented metros like Las Vegas and Miami, while comprising a bit more than 40 percent of its residents. The working class comprise 18 percent of the borough’s jobs and 20 percent of its residents. Their salaries, too, are considerably less than their Manhattan peers.


A woman rides her bike past the Unisphere in Queens. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Class Jobs Share of Borough Jobs Share of NYC Jobs Salary Residents Share of Borough Residents
Creative Class 140,754 24.5% 9.6% $79,248 337,152 31.4%
Service Class 285,079 49.6% 14.3% $30,722 471,476 44.0%
Working Class 148,729 25.9% 22.3% $43,846 262,548 24.5%

Queens is becoming a creative class bedroom community too, with more than 300,000 creative class residents, 23 percent of the city’s creative class, while accounting for less than ten percent of the city’s creative class jobs. Service workers make up roughly half the borough’s jobs and 44 percent of its residents, while a quarter of jobs and residents are working class.

The Bronx

149th Street and 3rd Avenue, the Bronx. (Phillip Capper/Wikimedia Commons)
Class Jobs Share of Borough Jobs Share of NYC Jobs Salary Residents Share of Borough Residents
Creative Class 85,759 32.2% 5.8% $77,875 129,750 23.9%
Service Class 131,931 49.6% 6.6% $30,160 271,649 50.1%
Working Class 48,351 18.2% 7.3% $39,520 139,279 25.7%

The creative class takes a larger share of employment—32 percent—in the Bronx than it does in Brooklyn, but it’s a smaller share of the borough’s residents, less than a quarter. Bronx creatives earn a little more than their Brooklyn counterparts, a lot less than their Manhattan peers.

Nearly half the borough’s workforce and residents are service workers, while the working class makes up 18 percent of the workforce but more than a quarter of residents.

Staten Island

A resident pushes a stroller in the Clifton neighborhood of Staten Island. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)
Class Jobs Share of Borough Jobs Share of NYC Jobs Salary Residents Share of Borough Residents
Creative Class 29,571 28.7% 2.0% $76,565 78,968 38.3%
Service Class 51,779 50.3% 2.6% $29,328 84,721 41.1%
Working Class 21,582 21.0% 3.2% $43,638 42,493 20.6%

There are just 30,000 creative class jobs in Staten Island, a tiny fraction of those in Manhattan; this class holds just 28.7 percent of the borough’s jobs. More than double that number of creative class members live in the borough, however, adding up to 38.3 percent of Staten Island residents—a figure that is greater than gentrified Brooklyn. Like the creatives of Brooklyn or the Bronx, they earn substantially less than counterparts in Manhattan.

Service workers make up roughly half of Staten Island’s workforce and 40 percent of its residents, while the working class makes up a fifth of both. The borough’s service workers make significantly less than the city average, while the working class earns roughly the average across the city.


What these charts collectively show is a city cleaving into areas of concentrated affluence, juxtaposed with areas of concentrated poverty.
Manhattan is becoming not just an island of high housing prices for wealthy people—it is reinforcing its position as the center of wealth creation and high-end employment for the entire city. Not only do creative class workers make much more in Manhattan than the outer boroughs, the economies of the outer boroughs are weighted more heavily toward lower-paying blue-collar and service jobs.

New York is not just a tale of two cities by economic class, it is becoming a tale of two separate cities based on where people live and work.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story originally misstated that Manhattan is New York City’s largest borough. It is the city’s largest economy.

About the Author

Richard Florida
Richard Florida

Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at New York University.

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