Good morning. It’s Monday. Today we’ll look at a major milestone in the city’s recovery from the pandemic — and why there’s more to the city’s economic outlook.
Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times
Mayor Eric Adams announced 10 days ago that the city had regained all the private-sector jobs it had lost during the pandemic. It’s an important milestone, and Adams was elated. He noted that New York had a record 4.7 million jobs in September.
But the numbers obscure a more complicated reality. That became clear in a conversation I had with Stefanos Chen, who covers the New York economy for the Metro desk.
Why isn’t everybody happy?
When you dig down, what you realize is this is not a recovery that’s being felt equally by all New Yorkers.
Yes, jobs are back, but they’re not the same quality as the ones lost, at least in terms of income.
Two sectors that were hit hard were retail and hospitality. For a snapshot, consider this: From February 2020 — the last full month before the pandemic lockdown — to September 2023, the retail sector lost almost 40,000 jobs, more than any other industry.
Retail workers averaged $62,000 a year. That’s below the median household income in New York City, but it’s still a decent wage.
In the same period, the city’s biggest growth industry was home health care, where workers averaged just half of what retail workers made — $31,000 a year. Home health aides do important work and very difficult work, but the pay is lower than for many of the jobs we lost.
Beyond that, another surprising statistic is that the typical household in New York is making less now than before Covid. How much less?
From before the pandemic to 2022, the median household income in New York City fell nearly 7 percent, to just under $75,000, after you adjust for inflation.
That was four times as big as the decline we saw nationally. It was also the biggest slide in median household income out of the 10 largest cities. And we’re talking about median household income, so it’s not just people on the margins but middle-income people.
And they feel it. The cost of everything from rent to the eggs you buy at the grocery has skyrocketed.
How is the changing employment picture affecting Black and Latino workers?
The disparity between Black and white New Yorkers is significant. Earlier this year, the Black unemployment rate in New York was 12.2 percent in the first quarter, compared with 1.3 percent for white New Yorkers. That’s the biggest gap in at least 20 years. That gap has narrowed slightly in the last few months, but it’s still wide. Black unemployment is 9.4 percent, but white unemployment is 3.8 percent. Overall unemployment is 5.3 percent.
When you look at the jobs that New York lost, people of color were disproportionately represented. Hotels and restaurants were businesses that had large numbers of Black and Hispanic workers, and also immigrants.
When these jobs disappeared, again, the jobs that were available were not necessarily better paying. The fact that the industries with the greatest losses had such a high share of people of color points to systemic barriers for Black and Hispanic New Yorkers.
But things are different at the top.
Here’s one way to look at it: The thousand-foot view is that, yes, the city is performing better. But, on the ground, it’s the already affluent who are benefiting the most.
The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School found that during the pandemic wage growth among high earners far outpaced wage growth among middle- and lower-income workers.
New York County, which covers Manhattan, had a bigger income disparity than any other county in the nation. It’s eye-popping. The richest fifth of Manhattanites make 53 times as much as the poorest Manhattanites do. The Bronx and Brooklyn were also among the top 10 counties with the biggest income disparities.
Does everyone agree on the statistics the mayor celebrated?
The discrepancy is small, but there is disagreement.
Mayor Adams is using the job numbers calculated by a city agency. The State Department of Labor, which uses different methodology, shows that we are still about 5,000 jobs off the prepandemic peak.
Putting that aside, this is a big accomplishment. The nonpartisan Independent Budget Office had predicted the city might not reach this point until a year from now.
So what does the bigger economic picture look like for New York City?
Return to office has not gone the way many thought it would — we’ve essentially stalled on R.T.O. There are high vacancies for storefronts. Those are only two of the things in New York’s economy that make it harder to recover than elsewhere.
The mayor cited his policies on public safety and sanitation as reasons for the jobs turnaround, along with job-skill training programs. The mayor and advocacy groups both say that too many people who’ve lost jobs don’t have the skills to get the jobs that are available.
But say you are intent on changing jobs and climbing the ladder. You have to dedicate time to job-training programs. Many are full time or the equivalent of full time. If you’re just scraping by and you already have a full-time job, that may well be more than you can manage.
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In effect until Nov. 1 (All Saints’ Day).
The latest New York news
Policy and influence
Immigration: Many migrants entering the U.S. at the southern border have been steered to New York City by relatives, politicians and smugglers.
Protests: Crowds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators packed the streets of Brooklyn on Saturday, calling on the U.S. government to stop sending aid to Israel.
Investigation: The City University of New York halted its investigation into an Alzheimer’s researcher who is accused of misconduct, saying questions had been raised about the confidentiality and integrity of the inquiry.
Matthew Perry: The actor who portrayed Chandler Bing in the acclaimed sitcom “Friends” died in Los Angeles. He was 54.
Joe Hill: A longtime fixture of the South Street Seaport, he sold nautical bric-a-brac and was a last link to Lower Manhattan’s past before the neighborhood became, as he described it, a “shopping mall.” He was 76.
Michael Bragman: As the majority leader in the New York State Assembly in 2000, he led a politically suicidal effort to oust the speaker, Sheldon Silver. Bragman was 83.
Vincent Asaro: The career mobster was cleared in the $6 million Lufthansa heist at Kennedy International Airport that was retold in the movie “Goodfellas,” only to be sent to prison in 2017 over a road rage incident. He was 86.
I pulled up to the gas pump and got out of the car, uncertain about whether there was an attendant on duty. Then a burly man in an orange safety vest emerged from the convenience store, his bald head glistening with sweat.
I asked him to fill the tank with regular and said I was paying cash.
Facing away from me, he began pumping the gas. There was a hot wind coming off the Kill Van Kull, whipping the tattered pennants along the gas station’s cyclone fence.
I turned into the wind, shading my eyes as I stared at the salt mounds across the street.
“Salt blow over here?” I asked the man.
“You don’t see it, but it gets all over everything,” he said.
“Does it bother you?”
“It didn’t used to,” he said. “But the other night I was out to dinner with my wife, and I asked her if the food tasted salty, and she said no. ‘It must be me,’ I said.”
He topped off the tank to the dollar, and I paid him. He headed back inside as I got in my car and pulled away.
Waiting for an opening in the passing traffic before exiting the lot, the mountains of salt directly in front of me, I licked my lips.
— Tom Diriwachter
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Stefano Montali, Ashley Shannon Wu and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].