New York City rich and poor — the inequality crisis | DW Documentary

America is voting on its future —
the wealthiest New Yorkers too. To me, we have fix the pandemic,
so we can fix the economy. The gap between rich and poor is
wide, and it's getting wider. New York City was hit
hardest by the pandemic. And the poorest – worst affected. If Trump is re-elected,
nothing will improve for us, it will only get worse. The coronavirus crisis put the
focus on social injustice — right in the middle
of an election year. Only one of the two candidates admits
the existence of systemic racism. We need someone who can bring
together and unify the country! Eight months, one city, three worlds
– the city's upper, middle and lower classes. This film shows an
idealized city, traumatized, while taking a look behind New
York's glittering facades…. and lays bare one of America's
biggest failings – inequality. Spring 2020 and actor Kevin Smith
Kirkwood takes a walk on Broadway. Theaters are closed. He and his
colleagues are out of work.

It’s very intense. And
it’s scary not knowing when there is an end in sight. There are some pretty dark days, you
know. Because that fear set in. Our business is already filled with
insecurities and times of insecurity. But to have no idea… of anything on the horizon? New York confirmed its first
coronavirus case on March first. Two weeks later, the city
started going into lockdown. By the end of the month, the US city
became an epicentre of the pandemic.

Sirens break the silence in a
city usually pulsing with life. New York's world-famous theater
district Broadway closed quickly. In a normal year, it would
attract millions of visitors. It's where Kevin had fulfilled
his lifelong ambition to become an actor and singer. An ambition he achieved
despite the odds. The little black gay kid from
the ghetto of Toledo, Ohio. Who saw his dream come true. I
spent six years in this building. Winning the Tony Award. Performing at
the Tonys. Winning the Grammy Award. His breakthrough came with the
award-winning musical '’Kinky Boots’', which saw Kevin also
dress up as a woman. He was finally on the verge of
his own directorial debut — at a small theater
outside New York. I was just starting to feel like
I had a footing in the industry, you know. And then this happened. A few blocks away from Broadway…
Tiffany's on fifth avenue, that's where Emerita Ramoon
works – or did, until March. So, my job was to package any
retail items that came downstairs. If a customer called or order
online, it will come downstairs, I would check it, examine it, wrap
it up and package it for shipping.

Her personal take on the world
is a very different one. Emerita lives in a highrise in South
Bronx, New York's poorest borough. Tiffany gift boxes remain empty. Emerita pays 1300 dollars
for a two-room apartment… a rent that was manageable
while she still had a job. Emerita's parents came to New York as
Latin American immigrants… and ended up somewhere that couldn't be further
from the affluent centre of Manhattan. As a little girl, my mom will watch
all these old movies and one of her favorites was Breakfast at Tiffany's. I understand why, you know, walking
in front of this store was like a big thing for Audrey Hepburn, you know,
you want to lavish lifestyle. So, as a young female living in New

That's what I always embodied for myself. And I made my breakfast
at Tiffany's dream come to pass. Now the dream is over – Emerita no
longer has her job. She's had to send her children to stay with other family
members, because money's so short. The Bickley family has gone to stay in
their summer house in the Hamptons, two hours' drive from their
Manhattan apartment. The daughters are fashion influencers,
and can work from anywhere. Just a fun fact about my closets — I work with a girl who is
a professional organizer.

She arrived in the
Hamptons before I did… and organized by color and category. Father Ian became a multimillionaire
at the luxury goods brand Coach. Today he's an independent director
for the shoe company Crocs, and a board member of the
cosmetics firm Natura. Success is the intersection of hard
work and good luck. Good fortune. And I really do believe that. Mother Kim manages her two daughters,
Sophie, 28, and Charlotte who's 26. You know, they are sisters. I just try
to keep everyone focused and calm. Sophie and I like to refer to
ourselves as bloggers, influencers. I prefer influencers and
content creators. – Yeah. What we do, from a job point of view — We like to look at ourselves as
people who are recommending things to like to influence
people in a positive way. For them, influencers are
more in demand than ever. For some, quarantine outfits
are the "in" thing. It’s such a cute outfit? People are bored at home, shopping
online, a lot of sales going on? They're on Instagram all day because
they don’t have anything else to do.

We were really pushing for
the wearing of masks. People definitely are
judging about it. Because people are losing their
job and things like that. ?and we’re focusing on clothes. But it’s our job. Some people
don’t really understand. – But we’re sensitive about it.
– Yeah, we try to be. The metropolis of extremes
— and the pandemic. By April, New York is experiencing
days that will deeply scar the city's collective memory.

Under lockdown, anyone who
can stay at home, does so. As many as 800 people a day are
dying in the city's hospitals. Bodies are stored in refrigerator
trucks behind the clinics. Why was the city so badly affected
– and who was it affecting worst? There were two groups. Those who could
leave the city or work from home. And those who continued to
work to keep the system going, for those who were able
to flee to the Hamptons. Although this divide existed in the
city long before the pandemic, it has now become a
matter of life and death. New York – with its 8.4 million
inhabitants, five boroughs, all divided into
unequal neighborhoods.

There are parts of Manhattan
where almost everyone is white. But that’s not the case in the Bronx,
people of color are the majority. In New York, there's a correlation
between skin colour and income. Residents in poorer parts of the Bronx
and Queens are mostly Black or Latino. And it's here that most New Yorkers
are dying of the coronavirus. Health is a luxury not
everyone can afford. 25 out of 30 zip codes were in
white, wealthier neighborhoods. and those hit the most were in poorer,
Black and immigrant communities. They weren't getting tested. Coinciding with the end of
lockdown, anger spills over. The death of George Floyd in
Minneapolis on May 25th sparks days of protests, after he's shown
suffocating with a white police officer kneeling on his neck.

There are protests in New York
and throughout the country. Unrest and looting overshadow peaceful
protests for social injustice. The mood is further inflamed by police
brutality directed at anyone… Black or white. When you combine the Covid virus
with the virus of racist cops, you're going to have an explosion.
And that's what you are witnessing Those are the folks in the
street who are getting sick. yet it is also those who are being
targeted by the police unfairly. The protests go on for months. For Emerita Ramoon, racism is an
all too familiar part of life. I'm not a color.

You're not a color.
You're a human being. And that's how you should carry
yourself. But once you put a title on yourself, it changed everything.
And I think that's the problem with people in today's society. She knows the chance of catching
COVID-19 in this district is much higher than in Manhattan. As you can see in this neighborhood,
it's not a lot of funds.

So, a lot of people don't have
insurance to go. And if they are sick, they don't want to go to an emergency
room because they don't have the pay. So in neighborhoods like this, you're
going to get hit very hard when stuff like that happened, cause it's
a poor neighborhood, poverty. Within a kilometer radius of Emerita's
house in the South Bronx 10% of residents define themselves as white.
The average annual household income is just shy of 27000 dollars. Almost half
the residents here live in poverty or are at risk of poverty. Before the
pandemic, 13 percent were unemployed. In May, the area was among those
with the highest number of cases. I did hear some tenants did
have it and some passed. It's June, and Emerita
hardly leaves her apartment. She's waiting and hoping for
a job, and to see her sons.

One of them is spending the lockdown
with his father, the other son is with Emerita's mother. Emerita herself
couldn’t afford to feed them all. It’s about to be, what, three months?
Three months without seeing my kids. Physically, I see them do video talk
it. But physically touching them, physically hugging, you
know, three months. What’s up guys? I'm
getting my nails done? The Bickley family were able to
remain together during the pandemic.

They have paid help. Mexican nail
designer Alicia is on a house visit. I have four kids — and I’m
afraid for my kids especially. – So why do you do it? I need money. My husband and I
we stayed home for 2 months. Now we start work a little bit. Alicia earns 150 dollars an hour. She's prepared to take the health risk
in order to earn that kind of money. For the Bickley family, work
doesn't entail a health risk. We’re extremely fortunate to have the
choice of being here versus in New York City when things are like this.
Not everybody has a choice. The city is one of the most inundated
places with the virus right now and also we're so fortunate to have
like a backyard to go out on. And a lot of people are just
stuck in their apartments. The virus reaches the
Hamptons in April… but arrives more slowly
than in New York city.

Within a kilometre radius
around the Bickley's home — 90 percent of residents
define themselves as white. Around 2.6% live close
to or below the poverty line. And pre-pandemic unemployment
levels were under 2%. At the peak of the crisis, seven
times more people were dying in New York than in the Hamptons. So how do society's more privileged
members deal with social injustice during a deadly pandemic? Is it okay
to carry on showing off one's wealth? I’m sensitive about what the girls
post on their Instagram all the time. – Really? I’m like — “why?”- you know,
some? but that my opinion. It’s their brand and they should
do what they want to do with their Instagram you know? It’s not for me to
say or to control.

It’s their brand. People just don’t
like? I mean people? If it was my brand I wouldn’t do
what they do. But that’s not? Dad, what are you talking about? I’m not Yin to my Yang! No no no? I’m
just saying — your brand is about you guys, your lifestyle, you know that’s
what it is, that’s what I think is magnetic about it and what attracts
people. And I’m just saying — it’s not my brand or lifestyle
or what I would choose to post if I were? You’ve seen my Instagram. People are different. I have my own
brand and my own? – Okay, we got it. Kevin lives for performing – but
now his life is in intermission.

An actor and singer without any
earnings, and perhaps more importantly – without a stage.
Although, not exactly…. For Kevin, church has taken
the place of the theater. It's a window on the world, even
if the audience is only virtual. The first few were like, oh, this is
kind of weird. This is kind of kooky. And then I got used to it as best
as I could. It's just it's not as fulfilling, you know, to be able to
look into people's faces and hear them singing along with you and
standing up and clapping and waving their hands. It's a much different
experience. So, it's been a challenge for me to try to keep my
performative energy up. Speaking candidly as a pastor, I'm
like, maybe I shouldn't preach. Maybe we should just sing the
whole time because it's so, you know, spirit filling,
you know, and so uplifting. People have lost mothers and
fathers and sisters and brothers. People are suffering. They feel
lonely, they feel isolated.

They've lost loved ones. So there's
kind of a very it was a heavy, heavy mood and it was difficult
pastoring in that context. Religion is an anchor for
Kevin, especially now. Like for so many others,
enforced isolation is tough. Being able to come here and still
getting to worship, you know, getting to sit and listen to the
pastors, you know, sermon like first hand and be in the space, you
know, has been amazing for my anxiety levels and
my stress levels. After church, back in Queens…
Kevin's neighborhood Astoria.

This neighborhood is fun and eclectic
and ethnically mixed and diverse. It's a great shopping area
and shopping district. Great Middle-Class Neighborhood,
lots of families, lots of young people,
young transplants. In the one kilometer area around
Kevin's apartment, 74% of residents define themselves as white. The
average household income is around 74 thousand dollars. Eleven percent live
around or below the poverty line. Before the pandemic around
five percent were unemployed. The number of coronavirus cases
here in April was around 40% below the New York city average. I felt very safe, actually, during the
pandemic. I felt like this is a good neighborhood to sort of weather the
storm and sort of and I felt a little bit protected.

I felt lucky that we
were not at the center of infection. But economically, the
slowdown has been harrowing. Emerita Ramoon doesn't feel
at all safe in the Bronx. But now she's got something
to look forward to. Her youngest son Eissac is
coming home in four days' time. The 13 year-old has just finished
his school year, online. Yes. You made it to eight grade. You should be proud of yourself,
regardless of the circumstances put in at the short period of time. And
you didn’t it lose focus of anything. You fell behind a little bit, which
was able to, you know, catch up.

pexels photo 4050304

And I told you, it's not how you
start, it's how you finish it. So, you finish strong and give
yourself a round of applause. Eissac has been living
with his grandmother. I'm very excited for him to come home.
I love smelling my kids. I just love smelling, you know, just
sniffing they hair sniffing their neck because it's something about
a kid's smell, you know? And it just takes me back to
when there was a baby, like, oh, my goodness, I remember your smell. It's June and after almost 3 months
of total lockdown, New York cautiously begins to open up again. Some
businesses, like hairdressers, are allowed to reopen –
under certain conditions. At the same time, the effect the
pandemic has had on New York is becoming clear. Unemployment has
risen to above 20%, almost the level it was at the time of
the Great Depression.

Our research shows that in May one
million New Yorkers were suddenly left without work. The number of people
who could no longer afford to feed themselves doubled to two million.
A crisis already existed — the coronavirus exacerbated it. Anyone who can afford to do so,
has already left the city. By early May, almost a quarter of New
York's uptown apartments are empty. This country is very wealthy. The
reason that we can't meet the needs of our poor fellow citizens is not that
we do not have money. It is because we have had years of tax cuts, loopholes
and lax prosecution of tax fraud.

There are people who are getting
richer and richer in this pandemic. And we do not dare to ask them to do
their civic duty and pay their fair share. But we have to do
this to save our budget. It's July the first, not far
from the Bickley residence. The poor of New York protest at
the gates of the city’s rich. Legislation has passed to cut welfare
spending using the savings to plug the massive fiscal hole left
by the coronavirus pandemic. The protesters are demanding that
instead of punishing the poor, the city should tax its billionaires. The rich can continue
to live their lives — while we have to queue up in
endless lines – for a meal. The protest doesn't make it as far
as the Bickley family's house. Ian would be prepared to pay higher
taxes… he tries to play his part. He's become a mentor to people
like James, his former intern, who's just finished college. I came into 2020, excited. For me, as
I’m looking at my job situation now.

It’s challenging. This is what I try to also
say to myself every day. You know, I think this
is a moment in time. Yes, that’s it, I want to do something
I'm passionate and excited about. For Sophie, the everyday life of an
influencer doesn't stop because of the coronavirus. In Southampton, shopping
is allowed again – with a mask. In this bastion of the ultra-rich,
there's barely a sign of the catastrophe ravaging other
parts of the country. It's an idyllic seaside place.
Ocean is just over there. If you’re in New York City, you go
to the Hamptons. That's what it is.

So any equivalent of like a town in
Germany, that’s the Hamptons for us. The next day back in the Bronx,
Emerita sees her son Eissac for the first time in three months.
Her brother brings him home. I'm really excited, the last
time I saw my baby was in March. He's healthy, he's big and just
looks great. He even grew! Mother and son are hoping that
life can get back to normal. He is home Mommy! He
looks good, he is tall. It feels better than my home.
I like it, I like it here. I feel safer. It feels
much larger too. Today, nothing's going to spoil their
mood. But for Emerita, more financial hardship is already
looming on the horizon. Kevin is putting on a performance
– in his own front-room. It's part of a theatre project that
combines monologues and dance, documenting New Yorkers'
experiences of the pandemic. The director gives instructions via
conference call. Kevin's role – a choreographer who feels totally
blown off-course by the lockdown. As an artist I have I connected with
being lost at the beginning of Covid not knowing where my art and
inspiration was going to come from.

To take this art and use it to
help work through our fear, my own feelings, it
was really awesome. And that's that's one of the beautiful
things about what actors get to do. Dance might help Kevin process the
experiences of the past few months. But – it won't earn him much money. You’re such a great dancer, I’ve
never seen you dance like this. In addition to unemployment benefits,
Kevin gets around 600 dollars a week coronavirus subsidy.

But now
that scheme is to be wound down. I'm optimistic. I am positive. I
don't think they're going to be able to justify cutting that six
hundred dollars totally. I think so many Americans would fall
off, literally fall off a financial cliff. I wouldn't be homeless. But
with the six hundred and the base, you know, I am able to
pay my bills, you know. But that's exactly what happens. It's
August and in New York, case numbers have fallen significantly. Even the
Rockefeller Center is open again. Kevin has to dig into his savings,
because there are no more subsidies. Ian Bickley is back in the city — he shows us his apartment on
Manhattan's upscale Upper East Side. We have these little rails for our
dogs who love to destroy things. They've hardly used the apartment.
Luxury space left empty – while many New Yorkers don't know how they'll
be able to pay next month's rent.

Someone like me and look at our
family and look at the life that we have and that we lead. We haven't been
so affected by Covid, certainly from an economic standpoint. Because of the
opportunities that we have and the flexibility we have, we have options.
But a lot of people don’t. Emerita Ramoon can't afford her rent –
and now she's paying in installments. She's been saved by a food bank
in the apartment block basement. Canned foods and pasta to get her and
son Eissac through the difficult time. Emerita is in freefall – but there's
no social welfare net to catch her — and she's not the only one. Of those entitled
to unemployment benefits, only 70% are granted it. Among African-Americans
it is only about 55%. The reason – overburdened bureaucracy,
and one that makes many mistakes. Emerita stays strong for her son
– gardening is her therapy. So how am I supposed to tell my
son at night when I tuck him in? You can be whatever you want to.

too shall pass. God is a good God. And then I’m in the living room. The
bill’s being doubtful. Can’t do that. Evening on the Upper East Side. Ian's
having dinner with his mentee, James. It's the first time they've met
in person for a long time. James has great news. I got a job, working at a real
estate company, based in New York, a small developer, a lot of great
people, and they were able to offer me a fulltime opportunity,
despite everything going on. Looking towards the future, things are
definitely less certain than eight months ago, but when
everyone does their part, everyone will be in a better
place than eight months ago. I still do think it’s
a moment in time. However, I, I at the same time feel
like the crisis is much deeper and worse than I did several months ago.
A lot more people are unemployed. That means there’s a lot less spending
that affects other businesses. So, it becomes a
vicious circle. In the Bronx, the mood is grows tense.
Emerita is holed up in her apartment with Eissac. Since the start of the
summer the number of shootings kept rising.

In August, it was more
than double the number in 2019. It’s only eight a clock at night
and all of this is happening? Sometimes, partying can descend into a
shootout in just a blink of an eye. After a while you get used to it. The
guns start sounding like firework, you can’t tell the difference.
Until you wake up the next morning and you hear — oh, there
was a shootout last night. With all the things that we just came
out of, it’s not getting better. It’s getting reckless. The shooting, it could
happen near you. And then if you witness it and if
they see you, you’ve got to run. For Kevin, things start
looking up in September. Everything he thought he had lost
has suddenly become possible again. In New Hampshire, the first
theater is opening up again. And he's directing the production. I’m very excited. I’ve been inspired
over the past week because this transpired within the past week and a
half or two.

So, you know, solidified over the past week. I’ve just been so
inspired coming up with choreography and ideas, talking about costumes and
lighting, dancing in my kitchen. The theater is nearly six hundred
kilometres away, but at least Kevin gets to make his directorial debut.
Now it needs to get off the ground. I wanted to do it immediately.
I jumped at the chance. It’s very important to be able
to start that engine again. And so I’m honored to be a part of it,
to be a part of starting the movement towards making live
theater happen again. It's mid-September, and it’s
Fashion Week in New York. Summer's over and Charlotte and
Sophie are back from the Hamptons.

They're getting made up. Sophie and I serve as editors of a
magazine, The Daily Front Row, which is featured in the Hamptons
in New York City and L.A. And today we’re going to start
our day off with a lunch. It's one of a few live events – most
of fashion week is happening online. One really fun part about Fashion
Week is getting all glammed up because otherwise I don’t
wear any makeup really.

And so that’s always really fun. If it is a normal fashion week, it’s
literally from morning to night, about four days to five days before
shows. So then I’m a little nervous because they will get on each other’s
nerves and they will have fights. And so I have to have
a mental breakdown. I have to be there to
pick up the pieces. But this particular fashion week in
Covid is so far going to be relaxed. Their father, Ian is on
his way to Central Park. I want them both to have perspective. I think in any situation, to be the
best that you can be, you have to have perspective and understanding for
the situation that you’re in.

The benefits that you have, the
opportunities that you have and not to take those for granted. You used the
word privilege. You know, do they really understand the
privileges that they have? And, you know, could they be
doing more with that, I think. We don’t feel privileged. We’re
lucky to be in our position. But we have to wrap. Yeah. Whitefield, New Hampshire. The town
of 2200 has hardly any COVID cases. Kevin Smith Kirkwood is getting
ready for the premiere. It’s amazing to be up here. Because I
already love the place and because I think it’s safer, I was Instantly able
to just sort of exhale a little bit. The theater is one of the first in
the whole country to open up again. Kevin has had to quarantine and get
tested – like everyone on his team. We were rehearsing in their rehearsal
room in masks and trying to sing and dance this show in a mask. Not easy.
But we did what was necessary. So we did have to make some
concessions artistically.

We couldn‘t let Audrey
and Seymour kiss. The day is here – theater-goers are
only allowed in to see the performance under safety measures. TV teams
aren't allowed in under new rules. Kevin's done it — he's restored a little bit of
normality in the midst of a pandemic. We‘re successful. Everybody‘s healthy.
Things are clean. Theater’s sanitized. And people came tonight and sat
and watched and laughed together. It‘s amazing. It's October, and the city is getting
back on its feet. Six months ago, this was the centre of the pandemic.
New Yorkers are still traumatized. Anyone without a mask is viewed
as anti-social. Masks are only taken off to eat at the newly-established
curbside restaurants. They're allowed to fill a
quarter of inside seating — but few people take the opportunity. The number of people applying for
unemployment benefit has dropped again sharply, but it's still eight
times what it was in 2019. Empty offices across the city has
meant many smaller businesses reliant on office workers have had to close.
New York is facing a massive tax deficit, with no end in sight.

despite all the health precautions some districts are seeing a rise
in coronavirus cases again. People line up for food in every part
of town. Without a job, savings are spent on rent, and it's the poorest
who are left struggling to survive. For many it's a worse 9-11, previously
the worst catastrophe to hit New York. 9/11 targeted particular
parts of the city, but didn't shut down the whole
economy nor go on this long. There was emphasis on
returning to normalcy. Obviously, this pandemic isn't over. Eissac and Emerita Ramoon still
feel trapped in their apartment. Emerita doesn't want him to go back to
school, in case he catches the virus. Homeschooling is possible thanks to an
iPad from school, and an old computer.

I really don’t like being inside,
mostly I am distracted by games or watching a show. If I don’t play
games or watching a show I just sit on my bed and do nothing.
It gets lonely. A lot. Emerita hasn't found a new
job, and she's broke. Soon she won't be able to
afford this apartment. I'm not receiving anything because
of the pandemic agreement that the government is doing is on pause.
But my faith is still strong. I'm smiling and taking one day at a
time instead of planning out my life. You can't plan any more. You
just have to go with the days. Her ambition is to finally
get out of the Bronx. The Bickleys are meeting for dinner. It's not long til the presidential

It's a topic they prefer to avoid discussing with
some of their friends. We don’t talk about politics.
Haha. There are a lot of closet republicans. The effects of the pandemic have
made the Bickleys reflect… Sophie has her doubts now about
the world of influencers. It makes me wanna go where I can go
tutor kids that can’t be tutored or don’t have laptops or don’t have
parents who can help educate them. It makes me want do really do more. I think the gap between the poor, the
rich and certainly even the middle, the middle is a huge margin, but it
has become too large and people are suffering. That's what I think the
president has to really work on. The pandemic has has exacerbated it,
in my opinion, and brought it even more to light, but the underlying
issues were there before. Popcorn for the televised
debate between Biden and Trump.

Kevin is concerned about the election
and the future of his country. I am one of the people whose lives
will be affected directly by the choices that are made in our country.
I don't have a (expletive) cushion. I'm an artist. No trust fund family. Artist.
Black, queer. These kinds of decisions
affect me seriously. Despite the crisis, Kevin Smith
Kirkwood has achieved his big debut. But Broadway remains closed for now. Financially, Emerita Ramoon is at
rock-bottom, but remains optimistic. The Bickley family gained a new
perspective on the city, and life. Three lives, three worlds, one city.
The contrast existed long before the pandemic, but the coronavirus
has amplified it, and cemented the gaping division in
society. Not just in New York, exposed as the metropolis of inequality,
but also across the whole country. A challenge facing the United
States – and its new president..

As found on YouTube

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