New York City’s economy has never been stronger. The City boasts a record 4.5 million jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in more than 40 years. Yet despite these gains, too many New Yorkers are living paycheck to paycheck.
After decades of wage stagnation, earnings are rising across the board following the introduction of the $15/hour minimum wage. Wages do not reflect the productivity gains of the last several decades, and many New Yorkers can’t make ends meet — let alone move up the ladder. A low-wage home health aide, for example, puts in extraordinarily long hours but struggles to support their family without such basics as health insurance or paid sick leave. An aspiring entrepreneur with a great idea for a new business can’t secure funding or find an affordable space to start their company.
We must adopt policies to build an inclusive economy, because when economic growth is pursued as a strategy — a means rather than an end — it becomes a key driver to achieve wider social benefits. OneNYC2050 will ensure all New Yorkers have the right skills and education for 21st century jobs, fair pay and good working conditions, as well as opportunities for career advancement, economic mobility, and wealth creation.
Our economy is growing and diversifying. Once overly reliant on the financial sector, the city is now a tech hub and center for life sciences, professional services, and advanced manufacturing. We attract talent and investors from around the world who are drawn to the city’s universities and research institutions, our vibrancy, and the enduring reality that New York City is a place where strivers and dreamers can make their own success. We have also made strides toward greater economic equity, with a reduction in the gender wage gap and all-time highs in high school graduation and college readiness rates to prepare our young people for successful careers.
While these are the most favorable economic conditions since the Great Recession, not every New Yorker is benefiting. Record job growth has been largely driven by high-paying professional occupations that require high educational attainment and low-wage service sector jobs that are not sufficient to support a family, build savings, or secure a retirement. Many New Yorkers must work multiple jobs, and more than 1.6 million want to work more hours but cannot find opportunities to do so. Others are in entry-level jobs with limited pathways for advancement, and many face exploitation and unfair work conditions. Although poverty rates are decreasing citywide, more than 40 percent of the population still lives in or near poverty today.
More than 2 million New Yorkers lack the basic education and skills to access middle-class jobs because they either do not have a high school diploma or high school equivalency, or have a diploma but lack the required proficiency in English to secure most good-paying jobs. One in four transgender New Yorkers face barriers in accessing employment. Racial discrimination and historical inequities in job access and education have resulted in a persistent racial wealth gap: In 2016, black women working full-time in New York City made 57 cents for every dollar paid to white men. The unemployment rate remains higher for black and Hispanic workers — twice as high for black New Yorkers than white New Yorkers.
Nationally, the white-to-black disparity in median net worth (the value of a family’s combined assets minus its liabilities) is 19 to 1. This wealth disparity has a self-perpetuating effect as black children born today are less likely to be able to turn to family for help to pay for college, start a business, or weather a life emergency, thereby limiting their economic opportunity. The growing wealth divide is also exacerbated by a decline in union membership and employer provided worker benefits, with fewer employers investing in training or providing long-term economic security for their workers.
Similarly, LGBTQ poverty and unemployment is a significant concern, particularly for LGBTQ communities of color and transgender and gender non-binary people. Over 60% of low-income LGBTQ New Yorkers report having had difficulty paying for a basic need in the past year. Over 1 in 4 transgender New Yorkers have experienced barriers to accessing employment, with even higher rates for LGBTQ people of color. Black transgender people, for example, experience four times the rate of unemployment as compared to the general population nationally.
The changing nature of work poses new risks and opportunities. At least 400,000 New Yorkers work full-time as freelancers, supported by the growth of app-based hiring in service industries such as home health care, for-hire driving, and hospitality. While the “gig economy” has increased job accessibility and the flexibility of hours, it has also meant less security; most freelancers lack benefits like employer subsidized access to health care, paid time off, and assistance with employer disputes. Automation threatens to impact nearly 40 percent of occupations, mostly those with low education requirements or involving repetitive tasks.
Income is directly linked to the ability to live a long and healthy life, impacting the ability to afford nutritious food, adequate housing, or health care. Poverty can also cause toxic stress among those who experience it, leading to poor health among children and adults. Reducing income inequality could save New Yorkers’ lives. A recent study demonstrated that the $15/hour minimum wage would have averted as many as 5,500 premature deaths in New York City between 2008 and 2012 had it been in place.
What We Heard from New Yorkers
Jobs and the economy were identified as the third-greatest challenge facing residents of New York City (behind housing and transportation), with 43 percent of more than 14,000 respondents selecting that issue in our citywide survey. Their comments spoke to both economic growth and opportunity, voicing a desire to support small businesses, ensure large businesses contribute fairly to the city’s needs for infrastructure and affordable housing, and oppose policies that provide tax benefits to large corporations without commitments to public benefits. Economic opportunity themes included the need for:
- A safety net to preserve the middle class, accounting for costs of childcare, housing, education, and retirement
- More job training, especially for older New Yorkers, formerly incarcerated, homeless, and those lacking college degrees
- Increasing the minimum wage and required benefits for all workers
- Greater diversity and fairness in hiring, evaluation, and pay
- Greater community ownership of economic assets, and redistribution of wealth
As another respondent shared, “It’s damaging when women and minorities are paid less for the same work when they have the same qualifications. It hurts us all when people don’t have the same opportunities.”
The city’s strong economy — paired with wage increases and improved work rules — has helped significantly reduce poverty since 2014. More than 1.5 million New Yorkers have benefited from the $15/hour minimum wage since it took effect in New York City in January 2019. With minimum-wage earners seeing their income double in the last 10 years, the City is on track to meet our 2015 goal of moving 800,000 residents — nearly 10 percent of our population — out of poverty or near poverty by 2025.
Thanks to strategic investments by the City, we have become a leading innovation hub, attracting global firms such as Google and Facebook, successful homegrown start-ups such as Etsy and ZocDoc, and countless entrepreneurs looking to start the next big thing. The City continues to look ahead, releasing New York Works, a 10-year plan for creating 100,000 good-paying jobs in strategic growth industries.
We have also made significant investments in City properties to create more access to affordable industrial and commercial space, particularly for small businesses. The City has committed to workforce development programs such as Career Pathways and its associated Industry Partnerships, partnering with employers, industry and trade organizations, unions, and nonprofits to build a robust pipeline of local talent to fill jobs in targeted sectors.
The City enacted some of the strongest worker protection mandates in the country, such as paid safe and sick leave policies. This is supported by the newly renamed Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, which enforces stronger work rules and holds employers accountable. For small businesses, we made policy and procedural changes that are expected to save businesses $50 million annually. To increase participation in the economy from underrepresented groups and companies, the City has certified a record number of minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs) and awarded them more than $10 billion in contracts since 2015.
Post-recession job growth has reached record-high levels and New York City’s unemployment rate is at a historic low of 4.1 percent. Since December 2009, the high point of unemployment after the Great Recession, New York City has added more than 700,000 jobs.
We’ve made significant efforts to ensure fair employment practices and close the pay gap for women and people of color, becoming the first municipality in the nation to enforce a law prohibiting all employers from inquiring about job seekers’ salary history during the hiring process. By removing questions about an applicant’s previous earnings, the law allows applicants who have been systemically underpaid, particularly women and people of color, to negotiate a salary based on their qualifications and earning potential rather than being measured by their previous salary. To help businesses and job seekers understand the new law, the NYC Commission on Human Rights launched a digital ad campaign targeting human resources professionals and job seekers
And we did this all while strengthening the City’s financial outlook, thereby earning a credit-rating upgrade from Moody’s, which cited our increased economic diversity and strong fiscal management.
WHAT WE WILL DO
OneNYC 2050 recognizes the need for a new social contract to make New York City the fairest big city in America. To create an equitable and inclusive economy, we will attract and create good-paying jobs by investing in businesses and sectors that promise fair wages and working conditions. We will train New Yorkers for the jobs of the future, protect workers, and expand the safety net. To support wealth creation and shared prosperity, we will grow worker-owned businesses and enable workers and labor unions to have more say and decision-making power. In addition, we will strengthen the fiscal health of the City to sustain and broaden economic security.