Former Metropolitan Transit Authority chairman and current New York City Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota briefly acknowledged that the city’s income inequality was a serious issue, before quickly backtracking seconds later, arguing instead that while economic disparity exists in New York City, it isn’t a problem at all.
The comments came during an appearance on Morning Joe on Friday, part of Lhota’s efforts to close a 44-point gap in the polls against the city’s public advocate Bill de Blasio, who emerged from a contentious Democratic primary after running on a platform of, among other things, addressing the city’s widening income gap. Lhota was criticizing de Blasio’s rhetoric on the subject as “divisive” with panelist Sam Stein:
SAM STEIN: Do you see wealth inequality in New York City as a problem?
LHOTA: Wealth, income inequality is a problem. Here’s the only way…
STEIN: Isn’t that what de Blasio is talking about though?
LHOTA: Yeah, and he has no way of dealing with it.
STEIN: But you just said it was divisive to talk about inequality, but now you think it’s a problem too.
LHOTA: No, I don’t think it’s a problem. You said ‘does it exist,’ it exists. I don’t think it’s a problem. I don’t think it’s a problem, it exists.
New Yorkers need only purchase a Metrocard to experience first hand the huge wealth gap in the city. A trip on the 2 subway line will shuttle riders from Chambers Street in lower Manhattan, where the average household income is $205,192 per year, to 149th Street in the Bronx — 10 stops later — where the average drops to just $16,580.
Recent studies using the latest census data reveal that even as the economy continues to improve after the 2008 recession, the poverty rate in New York City has risen slightly, from 20.1 percent of city households in 2010 to 21.2 percent last year. And the gap between the city’s poorest fifth of residents and it’s wealthiest fifth was roughly 50 fold in 2012, among the highest in the nation. In Manhattan in particular, the gap between that county’s rich and poor was the most pronounced in the country.
Yale economist Robert Schiller has called income inequality the single greatest threat to the U.S. economy, warning that if left unchecked, it could pose an even bigger threat than the financial crisis of 2008.