According to a new study from sociologists at the City University of New York, more than a third of activists in the Occupy movement in New York City had household incomes above $100,000, placing them at the cusp of the top quintile of income distribution in America. Researchers surveyed 729 people who participated in a May 1 rally last year and were involved in the “occupation” of Zuccotti Park in the fall of 2011, and found that they were more affluent, whiter, younger, much more highly educated, and more likely to be male than the average New Yorker.
Non-Hispanic whites constituted 62 percent of all respondents, though they make up only 33 percent of New York City residents. While only about a third of Americans hold bachelors’ degrees, 76 percent of respondents who had completed their education had a four-year college degree and 39 percent had graduate degrees. Among college graduates, more than a quarter went to top-ranked schools, which might help explain why the majority of graduates under 30 had some student debt. While 10 percent of participants were unemployed, 71 percent were employed in professional occupations. Eight percent were “blue collar.”
Michele Crentsil, a 23-year-old African-American participant told the researchers, “When people are saying, ‘Occupy Wall Street is a white middle-class thing,’ I can’t really fight them, because it’s not true, but then it’s not necessarily false either.”
The study found that “white respondents were also significantly more likely to be ‘actively involved’ than people of color” in the movement. The protests were largely organized by a core group of experienced activists who were “disproportionately white and male,” according to the researchers. One interviewee involved in training sessions described the leaders as “a predominantly young white male group.” Another said they were “more privileged and more college-educated, and sometimes beyond college-educated.”
Though most respondents were highly educated and employed, about a quarter of those with jobs worked less than 35 hours a week. They had time to participate in protests, the authors write, because they were “unconstrained by highly demanding family or work commitments.”
“It’s a pretty affluent demographic and highly educated,” Professor Ruth Milkman, one of the authors of the study, told the New York Post. “Many were the children of the elite, if you will.”