Labor's Cheap Date With Pataki

It's Solidarity—For the Time Being, Anyway

While the state hemorrhaged well-paying manufacturing jobs, many of the new positions created were low-wage, service sector positions. New York City, the institute found, lost more than 68,000 middle-wage jobs in the decade between 1989 and 1999, while gaining 52,000 low-wage positions. Overall, in the 1990s, the city lost 30 percent of its manufacturing employment.

Even benefits of the fast-vanishing boom of 1990s, the institute found, were concentrated at the highest income levels. Median family incomes, which grew by 9.5 percent in the U.S. as a whole, fell in New York City by 6 percent, according to the study. Wages, which were up by 5.7 percent nationally, declined in the city by 3.7 percent.

Adjusted for inflation, real wages for everyone except the highest income earners in New York City are at approximately the same level as the 1980s.

Pataki has garnered praise from health workers' leaders and others for championing new health care coverage initiatives (albeit under intense labor pressure). Despite those moves, however, the proportion of New Yorkers without health insurance grew from 12 percent in 1988 to 17 percent in 2000, the study found. (A separate investigation by the Commonwealth Fund, released last month, found that New Yorkers pay more than other Americans for health care coverage and that small businesses here are less likely to offer coverage than elsewhere in the country.)

How well did poor people fare under the Pataki regime? At the same time that the nation's poverty rate was falling by 1.5 percent, the state's poverty level rose by 0.8 percent, the institute found. Welfare reform is another Pataki campaign hallmark; the governor claims credit for a 1 million drop in welfare cases statewide, much of it in New York City. The city's accomplishment was aided by a rejection rate for welfare applicants that went from 27 percent in 1994 to 75 percent in 1998. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimated that those moves pushed more than a quarter million New Yorkers into such low-paying work that they pulled down wage rates for other low-wage workers.

Once, that record of dubious achievement might have galvanized labor into the forefront of a campaign to unseat a Republican governor. But that would have been a different labor movement. Today, instead of leading the charge for progressive leadership in Albany, unions are becoming just one more bump in the road.

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