Friday 17 June 2022

Wealth Disparity | Reflections on my US trip

*Before I start, I would like to clarify that I was a tourist and hence views expressed are subjective and are not necessarily accurate. This post is more of a reflection and summary of my experiences for my trip.

I was in the US for about 17 days and was mostly in New York for majority of the time but I also traveled to Washington DC, Boston, New Haven and Philadelphia. Arriving and ending the trip in New York brought a lot of new experiences especially after the pandemic and visiting what everyone knows is the city that the world focuses their attention on. From Wall Street to the different movie scenes there, it is like the epicenter of the world but I also saw a lot of wealth disparity there.

There was a huge number of homeless people that I saw on the streets and some were mentally ill as their behaviour was different from the bustling city we were in. Arriving in New York and exploring the tourist areas like Times Square did feel like a scene out of a movie as the familiar taxis, views and building appear. However, it was a lot more chaotic in real life as sirens blasted through the air and people rushing to make their way to their destination.

Seeing the homeless and how they are treated

The homeless can be seen along the streets and many of them do carry many things along with them for survival and most of them would hold a cardboard up that explains their situation to ask for some donations. It was disheartening to see them especially when they are in pretty substantial numbers and along the streets. New York also legalised weed and many other cities in the US legalise it so the smell of weed permeates through the streets.

Read more: money no enough | inflation woes & is investing the way to beat inflation?

After not travelling out of Singapore for some time, I realised how lucky and fortunate we are in Singapore. If we are homeless or require help, there are many organisations in Singapore that you can approach for help or rather, there are a number of social organisations available. But in the US, especially during the pandemic, many became homeless and it is very difficult for them to bounce back with little help from the government and society.

Many people of course go about their daily lives without paying much attention to them especially so in New York where time is of the essence for many. It seems as a culture shock to me as I don’t see this in SG and was not expecting New York to be like that.

Wealth disparity with higher cost of living in US

I think the wealth disparity is very obvious there as we see areas with expensive properties and nicer neighborhoods compared to areas with public housing that are deemed as more dangerous neighbourhoods. I do also understand that in Asia communities, we tend to be shy and find it more difficult to ask for help hence explaining why we don’t see much homelessness until it’s really necessary.

In Singapore, anyone walking along the streets could be a millionaire, the hawker who is comfortable in his singlet and slippers or that lady who is walking down Orchard Road wearing a few brand names. We don’t naturally flaunt wealth and a rich person in Singapore can be staying in a HDB and not necessarily in Bukit Timah. In the US, certain neighbourhoods are labelled as the richer areas and certain areas to be more “dangerous”. When my brother travelled to San Francisco, he accidentally walked along the border of “Tenderloin” known for the highest levels of homelessness and crime in the city. Do note that this area is in downtown San Francisco where the Big Tech companies are all just nearby. He saw many people who were addicted to drugs and behaved really differently as they were high. It was something that he has never seen before and wasn't what he expected.

During the pandemic, many jobs were cut and many people who were living paycheck to paycheck became homeless, a huge proportion of Americans live paycheck to paycheck as rents and living expenses are really high especially in city areas. A recent article highlighted that 1 in 3 Americans earning $250,000 and more are living paycheck to paycheck and that’s crazy in my opinion as $250,000 annually is a huge amount. Even the top earners are unable to control their spending means the lower end really has it worse.


Overall, the American dream has really changed and survival seems to be of importance to the general masses. Of course, there are opportunities in America compared to a lot more other countries but the situation of increased homelessness and crime are affecting the cities as there have been an uptick of numbers. Overall, it was nice to visit another countries after awhile and the different experiences are what makes travelling so exciting! Stay safe and well.

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  1. From what you have just described, it looked like what it was not much change from 30 years ago when I was in New York for one month training course.

    1. Wow, interesting. I thought what I saw arise only recently from the pandemic. Did not know that it has always existed.