How Brooklyn Measures the Economy

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Unemployment figures are one thing. How about the price of bread, the size of the rent hike, or the going rate for balloons?

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will post the national employment figures for October, including the number of jobs created and the unemployment rate.  These numbers—delayed by the recent government shutdown—are closely watched by economists, businessmen, and by many others as a gauge of how the American economy is doing and where it is headed.

But ordinary people have their own gauges. The Brooklyn Ink set out to see what everyday people watch in their daily life to determine how the economy is doing. Our staff went to 14 neighborhoods, from Bushwick to Park Slope, from Crown Heights to Dumbo. What we heard, of course, depended on individual circumstances. Joseph Benjamin, 61, from Brooklyn Heights, sees a troubled economy, and perhaps a view of Bill de Blasio’s “Two New Yorks.” “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” he said. “I bought a loaf of bread for $3.50 and I haven’t had a raise for six years.”

Though most people we interviewed saw the economy as troubled, some saw signs of hope. “People are getting new cars,” said Carlos, 29, a parking garage attendant in Fort Greene, “from Toyota to Lexus, Honda to Jaguar. They were driving older cars a few years ago, all beat up.”

This is not a scientific survey, of course. But maybe there are not just two New Yorks, but many. Here is what we found:

cheeseborough.finalJackie Cheeseborough, 64, retired, in Bedford-Stuyvesantarrow.down
“I look at grocery prices and the influx of affluent people coming into the neighborhood. It costs more now just to keep a home together.”

garcia.finalFerris Garcia, 26, Target employee, in Prospect Heightsarrow.up
“When I started seeing Mercedes coming through the neighborhood, I thought, either the economy is doing better or rich people are taking over.”

moreno.finalMilka Moreno, 37, hairdresser, in Flatbusharrow.down
“I used to have my own salon, but I had to sell it… it was pretty busy and it just went down, and down, and down. I’ve been here about two months, and people are struggling. They come in and ask the price, then just walk away. They’re looking for the cheapest price. They’re not getting their hair done, they’ll do it at home. I can’t blame them. It won’t get better.”

waldman.finalPeter Waldman, 50, balloon artist/entertainer, in Red Hookarrow.down
“I’ve been getting a buck [for each balloon] for 35 years. I used to get $100 an hour back in the 80’s, and upped my price to $150 in 2000. I get $200 for anything corporate or public and still people try to chew me down to less then $100 an hour.”

nicholson.finalDwayne Nicholson, 53, city transit project coordinator, in Crown Heightsarrow.up
About three months ago, the average price of a house around the corner from Nicholson’s house on Crown Street “went up by $60 something thousand dollars in two months… My neighbor mentioned it to me; I went on Zillow to check. It was shocking to see those numbers. I was like, ‘What? You’ve go to be joking.’”

greene.finalJames Greene Jr., 34, writer, in Bushwickarrow.side
“I guess, for me it’s the MTA. Other normal things don’t really spike up in price. I almost expect things to go up just over time. Also, another thing I notice is plane tickets.”

holstein.finalEric Holstein, 27, store manager/co-founder of Winter Warmers, in Park Slopearrow.up
“I know the economy’s good because of the amount of hat shops. You buy one hat and then you should be done.”

baffssan.finalTassan Baffssan, 55, cashier at B&E River Mini Market, in Gowanusarrow.down
“My business is going down. People only buy junk food now, chips, bread. Before, they would pay $30- $40 to buy a lot of stuffs, like cigarettes. People don’t smoke now. My sales of cigarette lost $700 a week. They don’t have money so they don’t smoke.”

jackson.finalLeola Jackson, 53, unemployed, in Bushwickarrow.side
“I judge it by if see more people shopping, if I see that prices are going down, if I hear that more programs are opening up, if there are more jobs out there that people can obtain, and just a little bit more sense of happiness.”

akbay.finalTony Akbay, 39, manager & owner of Faith Art Gallery, Dumboarrow.down
“Rent is too high, people put their money in rent, food, doctor. Art is the peoples’ sixth or seventh choice. Sometimes there were highs and lows; the art business now is very low.”

duffy.finalKenneth Duffy, 32, real estate agent, in Prospect Heightsarrow.up
“For us it’s the amount of people that are looking for a place and their budget. The amount of money people are putting down has definitely gone up, sometimes in cash. You see a lot of foreign investors, Chinese and Europeans mainly. In Prospect Heights, it’s like night and day from the last couple years. People are moving in and all these small businesses are opening up to serve them.”

johnson.finalEddie Johnson, 50, unemployed, in Brooklyn Heightsarrow.down
“Everything is high. A gallon of milk is now $5. Before it’s $2.”

Reported by the staff of the Brooklyn Ink.

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