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New Yorkers cope with cost of living increases during downturn

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Making it here has never been easy.

The cost of living in the city has skyrocketed -- or at least it feels that way -- in the past couple of decades, as data shows most New Yorkers' wages have remained stagnant.

Manhattan and Brooklyn were ranked the top two most expensive urban places in the U.S. last year, with Queens coming in fifth, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research's quarterly Cost of Living Index.

The survey ranks areas based on groceries, housing, utilities and other major costs.

"Is it harder living here? It was never easy," said Kenneth Goldstein, an economist with the New York-based Conference Board, which puts out a consumer confidence index. "Yes, the ethos of the city is changing, but it's been changing for generations, not just for decades."

But the difference now, he said, is that the recession erased thousands of jobs on Wall Street -- an important cog in the city's economy -- and they aren't expected to come back.

Even those workers who survived the crunch can expect a "new normal," Goldstein added.

"What's happened since the 'great recession' is just not a cyclical downturn, but those folks downtown aren't making the same salary, they're not getting the same bonuses and there are fewer of them," he said.

There's also the negative spillover effect to other companies, restaurants and services that rely on those workers for their business and vice-versa.

That leaves New Yorkers such as Jennifer Lawrence, 38, of SoHo, tightening the purse strings.

"If I can get somewhere by walking, I'll do that. I don't eat out really, like maybe twice a month," said Lawrence, a sales operator.

Candace Harms, 28, moved into her West Village apartment six years ago, and has seen her rent rise by $400 since.

"Groceries and even going out to get a cup of coffee or a glass of wine is definitely more expensive," griped Harms, a pathologist.

She seeks out deals at Trader Joes and visits her parents in Long Island, where she sometimes does her shopping, to save money.

"What I've noticed is that services and goods are of much higher quality in the suburbs than they are in the city, and they cost much less," she said. "Just because something is taking place in New York City, it automatically inflates the price, regardless of what its true value is."

(With Rachel Hawatmeh)

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