News & Politics

NYC Pols Play Numbers Game


There’s more good news for Mike Bloomberg on Friday—the city’s unemployment rate is down to 5.2 percent, the latest gift for a mayor enjoying a fractured Democratic opposition and an almost bottomless campaign war chest.

Consider that Rudy Guiliani cruised to reelection despite a 9.9 percent unemployment rate in March 1997. So Bloomberg is getting all the help Rudy did from the tabloid press and GOP-lovin’ Democrats like Floyd Flake, plus a little extra boost from the city economy.

Well, maybe.

“Our economic development strategy is creating jobs and opportunity in all five boroughs,” the mayor said in a statement, and we won’t stop until every New Yorker who wants a job can get one.”

The economic picture, however, is not equally rosy across all five boroughs.

Manhattan has a 4.6 percent unemployment rate — in line with the statewide average and lower than the national rate. But in the Bronx, 7 percent are unemployed. If the Bronx were a state (and it is more populous than 11 states) only Puerto Rico, Washington D.C. and Mississippi would have higher March 2005 unemployment rates.

Democrats, of course, were looking for holes in the mayor’s good-looking jobs numbers. City comptroller Bill Thompson pointed out that “on a year-over-year basis, March payroll jobs in the City rose 0.7 percent, less than half the corresponding U.S. growth rate of 1.6 percent.”

The fact is, the unemployment rate is an all-around tricky statistic. In a lousy economy, people stop looking for work; perversely, that can send the unemployment rate down. And when people think the economy is getting better and return to the job market in droves, the rate can go up, because more people are looking for work.

In any case, the rate only measures joblessness among people who are actively looking for a job. If you get lazy, or frustrated, or learn that a rich uncle has died and left you millions, you don’t count.

According to Thompson, the percentage of working age New Yorkers who are in the “labor force” (i.e., either working a job or looking for one) fell last month from 59.2 percent to 58.6 percent. That’s 35,300 people who decided to just chill out, learned that Uncle Reginald was deathly ill, or simply got too frustrated to continue their search for a 9-to-5. One wonders if they will sit out on Election Day, too.


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