The Homestead: Being Middle Class in a Rich Man’s Town

Michael Daly

What’s your definition of middle class?

In a recent article in the Brookings Report titled “Defining the middle class: Cash, credentials or culture?” authors report that “sociologists typically emphasize occupational status and/or education. Philosophers and anthropologists tend to focus on culture, education, and power. Economists largely rely on definitions related to wealth or income.

Being Middle Class, in my humble opinion, is relative, and assumes that your live in a community that offers you access to things like public transportation, affordable housing, healthcare and other traditional social services that the average middle class person needs to live a reasonably productive life.

In a place like Queens, NY, where there are buses and trains, you don’t necessarily need a car to get to work or to go out to a movie.  How much does it cost you to maintain a car for a year?

Either we have car payments for a newer car or repair bills for an older one. Gas is $3-plus per gallon. Insurance — at least $1,200 a year. Inspections, registration…it’s a minimum $5,000 to $6,000 a year to own a car.

Housing is another big part of the equation. Rents on the East End vary. A one bedroom apartment might run $1,200 per month in Riverhead. Apartments are $1,500-$2000 per month in Hampton Bays and $2,000-$3500 per month or more in Sag Harbor, if you can even find a year round apartment that won’t kick you out in the summer so the landlord can cash in on the summer crowd or rent through airbnb.  Twenty-five hundred dollars a month is $30,000 per year. Then add the universe’s most expensive electric utility costs of around $100 a month and cable at $150 — just to watch News 12 and get newly slowed down internet. Now we’re approaching $40,000 per year and we haven’t even touched heat, food, clothing and entertainment.

A young manager at the mobile phone store in Southampton lives in Mastic because he can’t afford — or even find — an apartment near his job in Southampton. He spends at least an hour each way every day to work, clogging up Route 27 and spewing his $3 per gallon fossil fuel gasses into the air. He said he “would love to live in Southampton, but there’s no place I can afford.”

Then take the young people that we send to our schools, teach, train, develop and then send them off to college. Southampton College has closed, and Stony Brook University’s course offerings at their campus are slim. I’ve met a number of local businesspeople and community leaders that graduated from Southampton College when it was serving our community. No more, folks.

Sure, there’s Suffolk County Community College. All three of my sons spent at least one full year at SCCC, but when they transferred to four-year colleges and universities, those schools would not honor many of the credits they got at SCCC, so much of it ended up being wasted time and money. Sad, but true. Columbia, School of Visual Arts and Hofstra. Sorry son, those courses don’t count, sorry you spent so much of your valuable time and money on them.

We live in a region with little to no economic development that brings businesses with good jobs, virtually no affordable housing, literally no public transportation except for a few busses left over after budget cuts and marginal healthcare with doctors that won’t accept the health insurance that we pay $800 a month for. Being Middle Class is a struggle in a rich man’s town.

It’s time for a reckoning, folks. Be a YIMBY!! Go to meetings!! Speak your minds!!

Michael Daly is an East Ender and regular contributor to The Beacon on community issues he cares passionately about. He can be reached at 631.525.6000 or by email at

East End Beacon

The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

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