How Brooklyn Measures the Economy

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:

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Jackie 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.”

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Ferris 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.”

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Milka 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.”

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Peter 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.”

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Dwayne Nicholson, 53, city transit project coordinator, in Crown Heights
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.’”



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James 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.”

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

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Tassan Baffssan, 55, cashier at B&E River Mini Market, in Gowanus
“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.”

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Leola 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.”

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Tony 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.”

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Kenneth 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.”

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Eddie 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

Students of PS 256 in Bed-Stuy at their afterschool Basketball game, started by a group of unemployed fathers led by Tony Fonville, a Bed-Stuy resident. (Photo: Tanay Warerkar/The Brooklyn Ink)

We followed The Last Drummers, a group of artists that play the drums on the 2 train, from Manhattan to Brooklyn and to the Barclays Center plaza. For these Bronx-born conga players, music is a source of inspiration that spreads across the city - under or above ground. 

-Ellie Ismailidou

Top photos: I visited Brownsville, Brooklyn to talk to a few of the neighborhood youth about what it is like to grow up in Brownsville. Some of the children who played basketball in the neighborhood’s courts said it was scary because of the gang shootings and drug dealing that goes on.

Bottom photos: The Bedford Avenue subway stop in Brooklyn during rush hour at about 6 p.m.

-Griselda Denise Ramirez

Brooklynite Jeffrey Stirewalt is telling his tour members stories about Flatbush, where they visited Erasmus High School, Loews’ Kings Theater, and a Dutch Reformed Church. He launched his company “Brooklyn Unplugged Tours” early last year, taking tourists to explore Brooklyn’s off the beaten path from Flatbush to Sheepshead Bay, to ethnic and faraway enclaves that would otherwise not be seen.

By Ding Chenjie

A Flatbush mural informing residents of their rights against police. Picture: Theron Mohamed.

A Flatbush mural informing residents of their rights against police. Picture: Theron Mohamed.

Mayoral Education Forum at PS-29 in #Brooklyn. Thursday May 2nd, 2013. Photo by: Mohamed Al-Shaaban

A construction worker on the roof of the restaurant Tom’s Coney Island. Tom’s faces the boardwalk but somehow managed to escape severe damage from Hurricane Sandy. They held a benefit for their less fortunate neighbors late last year to aid in the community’s recovery. The boardwalk’s businesses are set to be fully operational by summer. (The Brooklyn Ink/Richard Feloni)

A construction worker on the roof of the restaurant Tom’s Coney Island. Tom’s faces the boardwalk but somehow managed to escape severe damage from Hurricane Sandy. They held a benefit for their less fortunate neighbors late last year to aid in the community’s recovery. The boardwalk’s businesses are set to be fully operational by summer. (The Brooklyn Ink/Richard Feloni)

Colorful window displays are the hallmark of the ‘Little Pakistan’ area in Brooklyn (The Brooklyn Ink/Hira Nafees Shah)

A couple, dressed up for a photo-shoot, on a sunny afternoon on Plymouth Street, Dumbo, on Monday, February 22. (The BrooklynInk/Valerie Prassl)

A couple, dressed up for a photo-shoot, on a sunny afternoon on Plymouth Street, Dumbo, on Monday, February 22. (The BrooklynInk/Valerie Prassl)