Report: It’s Not Larry King’s Bensonhurst Anymore

February 7, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BENSONHURST — In Community District 11, covering Bensonhurst and Bath Beach, Italian-American restaurants and bakeries still draw customers from all over Brooklyn and Staten Island.

However, many of them have been replaced by Chinese restaurants and bakeries. And in the parks, you can see Asian seniors doing tai chi every morning.

These observations are borne out by the Brooklyn Neighborhood Report on Community District 11, one of a series of such reports (one for each community district) published recently by the Center for the Study of Brooklyn at Brooklyn College. The neighborhood reports are co-sponsored and funded by the Brooklyn Community Foundation.

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Within the district, the white population decreased between 2000 and 2007-09 from 65 percent to 52 percent. Meanwhile, the Asian population increased from 23 percent to 33.7 percent, and the Latino population increased from 8.2 percent to 12.6 percent. The black population in both time periods was negligible, less than 5 percent.

The top three ethnic backgrounds were unchanged — in order, Italian, Chinese and Russian. (There was once a well-established Jewish population in Bensonhurst that produced Larry King, Harvey Fierstein, and Moe and Curly Howard of the Three Stooges, among others, but it started to dissipate in the 1970s.)

The district’s most common places of birth in 2000 were, in order, New York state, China, Italy, Russia and Ukraine. In 2007-09 they were the same, but the order had changed slightly –— New York state, China, Russia, Italy and Ukraine.

Showing the growing number of immigrants, the number of households whose adult residents speak little or no English rose from 27.8 percent to 37.9 percent.

Although Bensonhurst and Bath Beach are basically working-class areas with a growing number of immigrants, there are few indicators of what sociologists call the “culture of poverty.”

Sixty-three percent of today’s  Community District 11 high school students graduate on time, higher than the borough-wide average of 58.8 percent. And 54.2 percent of the area’s students head to college, more than the 48 percent borough-wide figure. Only 21 percent of the adults aged 25 or older are college graduates, but it’s typical in immigrant areas for children to become better educated than their parents.

Community District 11’s median household income rose only slightly from 2000 to 2007-09, from $41,873 to $42,071. In 2007-09, 18.6 percent of all children under the age of 18 lived in poverty, down from 27.5 percent in 2000.

The top occupations in 2007-09 were, in order, administrative assistant, retail salesperson, construction laborer and cashier. In 2000, they were administrative assistant, sewing machine operator, office clerk and computer programmer. The disappearance from the list of sewing machine operator may reflect the increasing crackdown on illegal sweatshops.

As far as housing is concerned, the median gross rent went up from $926 in 2000 to $978 in 2007-09. Only five per 1,000 homeowners in the area experienced foreclosures, opposed to 25.2 borough-wide. Fifty-two percent of the district’s renters paid 30 percent or more of their income in rent, about the same as the borough-wide average of 52.3 percent.

The majority of residents reported themselves to be in good or excellent health. The percentage of people eating fresh fruits and vegetables at least once a day increased from 80 in 2000 to 85 in 2007-09, and the number of people who exercised within the past month increased from 71 percent to 86.

Most of the famous people who grew up in Bensonhurst in the past were either Italian or Jewish — the aforementioned Larry King, comedian Gabriel Kaplan, Mets pitcher John Franco, Hall of Fame Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, actor Tony Sirico of “The Sopranos” and actor Vincent D’Onofrio of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

Nowadays, however, Bensonhurst more resembles the multi-ethnic “Sweathogs” of the 1970s TV comedy series “Welcome Back Kotter,” which was set in Bensonhurst.

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