of Black Unemployment in New York City
and Public Sector Unions
A Critique of
the Manhattan Institute's Vision of New York City
of Life for Working People
of New York City
of Black Unemployment in New York City
Gregory DeFreitas, Economics
Department, Hofstra University
The fraction of New York
City teenagers employed has fallen sharply since the 1960s to a level less
than half the national average, and the lowest of all major cities. While
this trend cuts across all racial and ethnic groups, African American youth
are the worst off -- a staggering 90 percent had no job in an average week
in 1996. Since 51 percent of them live in poor households, finding work
is clearly more an income necessity than is the case with most white urban
or suburban youth.
A recent survey of a random
sample of 424 city employers that I directed points to a number of factors
important to their labor market difficulties. In particular, years of sluggish
job and wage growth has meant that most employers report a still-abundant
supply of displaced, underemployed, and/or moonlighting adult job-seekers.
Competition with adults (both immigrant and non-immigrant) for entry-level
jobs has been intensified as employers have raised both the minimum schooling
and experience levels expected of new hires. Most retailers and service
firms told us that this was less the result of rising skill needs than
a reflection of their adult applicant pool. It also reflects their overwhelmingly
negative assumptions about the preparation given by inner-city public schools.
Less than one in ten even considers an applicant's school grades in the
Stepped-up growth of good-paying,
full-time jobs for adults will thus be a necessary (though not alone a
sufficient) condition for reversing the decline in New York teens' employability.
Real progress will also require a variety of new local and national strategies,
including dramatic improvements in urban school quality and in school-to-work
programs, as well as immigration and labor market reforms.
and Public Sector Unions
Elliott Sclar, Urban Planning
Program - Columbia University
Under the guise of extended
contracting, privatization seeks to replace work appropriately done by
public employees with outside services in economically inappropriate situations.
Under the best of circumstances public contracting is a difficult and expensive
task to manage well. It is laden with high supervision and monitoring costs.
The alternative to this high cost is political corruption and low quality
goods and services. This choice between two bad options was a major impetus
for political reforms earlier in this century. To the extent that public
contracting was needed, reformers long ago concluded that it had to be
carried out in a careful and circumscribed manner.
Despite the serious underlying
flaws in public contracting, over the past two decades conservative ideologues
have seized upon an idealized notion of competitive public contracting
and have attempted to use it as a hammer with which to fracture the role
of public service in civic life. This militant advocacy of privatization
has a doubly malevolent goal: 1) to diminish the ability of government
to provide high quality public services to all citizens and to especially
diminish its role in protecting the health and well being of the most vulnerable
members of society (the poor, the sick, the elderly and children) and 2)
to cripple organized labor's ability to defend the wages and living standards
of all working Americans.
Although these two goals
are the true agenda of the privatization advocates, they try to rally support
by claiming to be defenders of public service. They claim to merely seek
to improve it, not to destroy it. Progressives must make the issue of efficient,
effective and responsive public service a centerpiece of their political
agenda. Absent a good alternative, a bad one will always persist.
of the Manhattan Institute's Vision of New York City
Hector R. Cordero-Guzman
and Andrea Bachrach, Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy,
New School for Social Research
In their Autumn 1997 article
in City Journal entitled "New York's Million Missing Jobs" Steven Craig
and D. Andrew Austin continue the Manhattan Institute's assault on New
York City's middle classes, working classes, and the poor by arguing that
poverty and unemployment in the City are the result of government regulation,
taxation, and spending. Craig and Austin build their case by arguing that
New York City has excessively high per capita tax rates but that city residents
receive few "necessary" services in return; that the City's "bloated" budget
depresses job growth; that high tax rates erode employment growth; and
that drastic reductions in spending and a removal of sales and income taxes
would encourage the growth of jobs in the City.
The article by Craig and
Austin is based on the assumption that taxes deter growth but does not
prove this. The article compares New York City's revenue and expenditure
levels (on a per capita basis) to the 18 largest cities in four major regions
of the United States. Their numbers are interesting but the findings are
not convincing since the figures combine city and county level data and
their strong assumption that taxation deters growth does not allow them
to examine the facts clearly and objectively. In fact, one could argue
that government taxation supports and stimulates growth; that adequate
regulation encourages competition, entrepreneurial efforts, and business
development; that workplace regulations and worker protections encourage
productivity growth; and that government should work to encourage social
and human development and it should work to fairly distribute the gains
of productivity increases and economic growth.
In our critique we will argue
that: a) New York city is demographically different in important ways from
other major cities and that this affects taxes and expenditures; b) that
the state regime and the formulas for the allocation of state and federal
resources and funds are quite different from other cities for a number
of relevant historical reasons; c) that their article assumes that decreased
taxation will automatically lead to job creation; d) the article ignores
the consequences of cuts for workers and the poor; and e) the article does
not take into account the complexity of New York City's employment problems
(a strategy to discourage manufacturing and encourage FIRE and services)
and therefore offers very simplistic solutions. Our main argument is that
under regulated and under-taxed economies increase inequality and deteriorate
into social chaos and gangsterism. Gangsters and wealthy predators benefit
from an unregulated winner-takes-all economy and they can certainly isolate
themselves from the attendant increases in crime and social disorder. Perhaps
it is they who want and argue most strongly for a reduction in their income
taxes to the detriment of those seeking community economic development
and a poverty and crime free civil society.
of Life for Working People
Joshua Freeman, History
Department, Queens College
The creation of the Five
Borough Institute responds to a two-fold narrowing of public discussion
about urban life and urban policy. First, most of the ideas that have captured
public attention and established the political agenda have arisen from
the political right. Second, most voices heard in policy debates come from
limited social strata -- politicians, foundation, officials, and business
groups. Working-class New Yorkers are far less likely to play a significant
role in decision-making about the future of the city. This was not always
During the decade after World
War II, working-class New Yorkers played a pervasive role in shaping the
economic, political and social life of the region. New York labor helped
lead the city toward a social democratic polity unique in the country in
its ambition and achievements. New York became a laboratory for a social
urbanism committed to an expansive welfare state, racial equality, and
popular access to culture and education. In housing, health care, and the
arts, organized labor helped construct the social infrastructure of the
city. Labor could play this role because of its size, economic power, and
political clout. But critical, too, was a kind of audacity, largely missing
today from both labor and the political left, a sense of possession about
the city and its future.
Today, labor seems so immersed
in immediate struggles to defend what it has and revive organizing efforts,
that it no longer is serving as an incubator of social reform. Here is
a role that the Five Borough Institute can play, throwing out ideas, challenging
received truths, bringing together allies, initiating reforms. For the
Five Borough Institute to succeed, scholars and unionists need to listen
to one another, grant each latitude, and learn to disagree. If we can do
that, perhaps we can recapture some of the audacity that once characterized
New York labor and the New York left.
of New York City
Joan Greenbaum, Professor
Computer Information Systems, CUNY
New York City's healthy employment
sectors--arts and entertainment, hotels and hospitality, programming and
telecommunications, securities and finance, and contracting and building--are
increasingly based on the work of a part-time and temporary workforce.
Work in these areas has been divided over time and space so that the old
contract between employer and employee has been broken in favor hiring
people only when and where they are needed and casting them aside when
they are not needed. While this may be an economically sensible policy
for inventory parts, it is decidedly impractical for maintaining New York
City workers, and their families, their mortgages, and their neighborhoods.
The old contract between
employer and employee, which came into being at the start of the industrial
period, moved the workplace out of the home, collecting workers under one
roof--the factory roof-- and setting a fixed time period for their labor.
This same pattern, or set of expectations for some form of job security,
was carried over in the early post-industrial period, shaping office work
through the twentieth century. It set longer term expectations for workers,
enabling them to buy houses and invest in the goods of the American dream.
And it established longer term profit horizon for the large corporations
that employed them. Agreed-upon contracts over working hours and wages
also set the pattern for union organizing and bargaining.
But newer growing work sectors,
like New York's arts and entertainment industry, rely on freelance and
temporary workers who provide services like production assistance or lighting,
by the day or the "product", which in this industry is call a "shoot".
Some may say that the increasing emphasis on pricing labor by the end product
is characteristic of the entertainment business, but it should be noted
that this form of contingent or temporary labor is also widespread in programming
and telecommunications, where programmers are expected to deliver software
according to a "deliverables" date. Employment in securities and finance
is also more oriented toward deliverables or products, with this sector
relying heavily on staffing agencies to supply day, weekly or monthly workers
to meet the due dates and peak periods.
This breakdown of time and
place as measuring units for labor is having marked effects on the abilities
of workers to plan their futures and buy into New York City as a place
to live as well as to work. It also marks a transition to a new form of
labor organizing and bargaining which is less based on central workplaces
and fixed time periods, and more geared toward establishing security for
working people, regardless of where or when their work takes place.