Mayor Michael Bloomberg led the city through two devastating economic slumps—the recession that followed the dot-com bust and the attacks of 9/11, and, of course, the Great Recession that began in 2008. While the mayor has done a laudable job managing the city’s finances through hard times, he probably would be the first to admit that the city’s employment picture could be better. A lot better.
The city’s jobless rate remains too high at 8.4 percent, more than a full percentage point higher than the national average. True, unemployment is lower today than it was a year ago, when the figure stood at 9.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But many new jobs are in low-paying fields like hospitality and food service. While those jobs can, and do, serve as vital steppingstones for hard-working young people, they are hardly the centerpiece of dynamic economic recovery.
After the new mayor develops a public-safety agenda and kick-starts the housing industry, he or she will have to figure out why the city is not creating the well-paying jobs it needs to attract and keep the smart and ambitious. As a recent report compiled by the Fiscal Policy Institute noted, the city’s financial industry—the target of so much abuse during the recently completed mayoral primary—has been slow to resume hiring. As a result, job seekers either remain outside the work force or they’ve been forced to accept lower-paying jobs, often without benefits.
The next mayor had better realize that a growth agenda simply is incompatible with faux-populist demagoguery about the alleged excesses of Wall Street. It was bad enough that Eliot Spitzer chose to reprise his anti-Wall Street rhetoric during his primary fight with Scott Stringer for the Democratic nomination for comptroller. The next mayor will have to be more responsible than Mr. Spitzer in dealing with the financial industry. Otherwise, those elusive middle-class jobs may go elsewhere.
Mr. Bloomberg is about to pass on to his successor a city that is stronger than it was in the dark days of 2001. But there is no shortage of work left to be done. The time for over-the-top partisan appeals ended when the last vote on Primary Night was counted. The mayoral candidates have to talk to all New Yorkers now.
And, oh yes, they’ll have to listen, too.