New York is increasingly a tale of two states — and Mayor Bill de Blasio presides over the superrich one. This would be good news for a mayor with a real plan: That is, we’ve got the money to start fixing our subway woes, and a historic chance to do it.
De Blasio is still on his inequality kick, although he has run out of ideas about how to fix it.
But the real inequality crisis is not within Gotham. It’s between New York City and the rest of the state.
Just look at the figures from a jobs report by the state comptroller, Tom DiNapoli. Over the half-decade since we got out of recession, New York City has created three out of four of the state’s new jobs, even though we have only 42 percent of the state’s population. Since 2009, Gotham has seen job growth of 11.3 percent, almost double the national figure. Meanwhile, “other regions of New York showed . . . smaller job
growth or job losses,” notes DiNapoli.
Some of our new jobs pay quite well, too. People working in New York City make, on average, 14 percent more than they did in 2009, beating inflation by more than a third. If you work on Long Island, the Hudson Valley or in the central part of the state, you make less than you did five years ago, after accounting for inflation.
Gotham is doing well on pay because its white-collar jobs — not just finance, but tech and other professions, too — pay well.
Far too many Gotham workers, particularly in the tourism industry, don’t make much money. But they still prefer the city. “The only region in the state that expanded its labor force over the post-recession period was New York City,” says DiNapoli.
The city has more people than ever living here and working here, or looking for work — because here is where the jobs are, well-paid or not. Everywhere else in the state, the labor force has shrunk — because people have stopped looking for jobs that aren’t there.
For now, this is all great for de Blasio. We’ve got so much tax money coming from Wall Street and Google workers that he can balance the budget without having to do anything. Just between May and July, the city increased its tax-revenue estimates by a billion dollars. Next year, if all goes OK — always a big if — we’ll have $2 billion more in tax dollars than we had this year.
The mayor should be using that money to attack our real problems.
Right now, record-low crime plus all those new jobs mean that our problems are the woes that come with growth.
To see how that works in practice, de Blasio should spend a week commuting on the subway from various points in the city: taking the No. 7 train from Flushing, the L train from Greenpoint, the F train from Fort Hamilton Parkway.
Such an exercise may remind de Blasio that while a few rich people can bail out of mass transit by taking ever-cheaper black cars, most New Yorkers are stuck on a subway system that is creaking under record ridership.
The mayor should do some weekend, night and borough-to-borough commutes, too, so he can see how hard it is for lower-paid, off-hours workers to get around when the MTA cuts its service.
Then, the mayor should agree to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request to put $3 billion into investments in subways and buses over the next five years, helping to pay for the next few stops on the Second Avenue Subway, plus better technology on existing subway lines.
The mayor should think seriously, too, about funding his own transit project. He mentioned a subway on Utica Avenue, and then never talked about it again. With China’s economy cratering, it’s a good time to build — steel and concrete are cheaper.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s extension of the 7 train to Manhattan’s Far West Side will open soon — and New Yorkers will remember that Bloomberg did it.
What will they remember about de Blasio?
Almost halfway through his first term, de Blasio’s set not to be a disaster or a success, but a placeholder. He leaves day-to-day management to competent folk while he gallivants around the world.
It could be worse. But he leaves long-range vision in the hands of . . . no one.
Placeholders are the ones who are forgotten.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.