Mohammad Hussain, 64, works seven days a week and lives in a room in a basement apartment in Jamaica, Queens. He spends his mornings as a newspaper vendor and his afternoons asa custodian at a mosque near his apartment. His rent is $325 a month and his food and transportation expenses vary from month to month. But most months, he spends about $100.
He sends the rest of his earnings to his wife, a housemaid in Elmira, N.Y. While married, they live separately since the two were picked up by U.S. Citizenship and ImmigrationServices (USCIS), or more commonly known as the INS. Back in 2003, the couple bought a house in Elmira, but neither was a U.S. citizen. Authorities received word that they were undocumented residents and were taken into custody.
USCIS released Hussain and his wife on probationary status. Hussain says he meets regularly with the authorities while he tries to take steps to achieve status. His wife faces deportation back to their native India if their cases aren’t appealed. The couple has 10 children – most of whom are U.S. Citizens and either in college or off living separate lives. Hussain does not receive support from his children or public assistance, nor does he have health insurance to see a doctor. He awaits a letter from his daughter, a member of the U.S. army, to sponsor his journey towards citizenship.
Hussain’s story is one of the concealed realities in New York City. His day-to-day experiences and salary (around $17,000 a year) indicate a growing stratification between the city’s rich and poor.
The median household income for the Upper East Side in 2008 was $109,792 — making it the most affluent community district in New York City. The poorest were Mott Haven, Melrose, and Hunts Point with a median household income of $19,911, according to the 2008 Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy’s State of the City’s Housing and Neighborhoods report.
The median household income in Jamaica, Queens, where Hussain lives was $52,106 in 2008 – he manages to survive on less than half that in a year and have money left over to send to his wife.
In a cash-strapped economy, most have learned to make do with less and found ways to save money by cutting back on the times they go out to eat or canceling a cable subscription. But for some, their wages are just enough to pay for necessities such as food, housing and transportation.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour or $15,080 a year before taxes (calculated based on a 40-hour work week.) The Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York City, a report released by the Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement in 2010, calculated the amount of money an individual or family would need to make in order to make ends meet in each of the five boroughs.
A single adult such as Hussain living in Queens would have to make $14.77 an hour or $31,185 a year to get by, according to the report. That calculation includes expenses such as housing, food, transportation, health care, taxes, and miscellaneous expenses. Based on that calculation, Hussain would have to earn $590.80 a week – he makes $325.