As NY1 continues its "A Tale of Two Cities" series, exploring the issue of income inequality, we turn now to Staten Island, where a middle-class family who worked for years to put their kids through college is now enjoying a little more financial flexibility. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
It's a rare occurrence at the Grasso home when 56-year-old Ellen, 58-year-old Anthony, 26-year-old Amanda and 24-year-old Jason all happen to be in the same place at the same time.
Amanda recently moved to an apartment just four blocks away. Jason still lives home while he finishes college and tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life.
The family lives in a modest home on Staten Island's south shore, and while they've refinanced several times, the rental income of the two-family home has provided a nice cushion as Ellen and Anthony worked to pay for both their kids' college education.
"We just felt that it was important to pay for their college, so they didn't have to worry about it, just go get an education," Anthony Grasso said.
To make sure they could afford two college tuitions at once, Anthony worked two jobs as a building engineer until recently retiring from one of them, as a engineer for the city, three years ago. He kept his second job, doing the same work in a private hospital, so he and Ellen can maintain what they call a comfortable lifestyle.
Ellen worked part-time for a lawyer before going back to school to get her undergrad in 1997, a tough mission that earned her a degree in 2004. She got a masters in 2011.
"I always worked in some capacity, and I felt like, I felt like I was always doing something wrong," she said.
Now, that guilt is all but gone. Ellen leaves the house at 7:30 a.m. every morning for her job as executive director of Forbes Woman, an online platform dedicated to advancing women in business and in leadership. Most days, it takes her nearly two hours to get from her Huguenot home to her office in the Village.
"The commute into Manhattan is really awful. It's so difficult," she said. "It's getting worse these last couple of years, and I'm not quite sure why."
Both the Grassos said they'll continue working as long as they can. With their financial obligation to their children pretty much over, they said it's the first time in a long time they feel like they can breathe when it comes to money.
"We're thinking about re-doing the deck outside," she said. "Now's the time, because the responsibility part is kind of complete. Even though it never is. But we've taken care, they're out on their own, they're earning money."