The Problem in New York City is Too Few Jobs

The last NJFAN newsletter featured a letter sent to New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams challenging his assertion that the problem in New York is not lack of jobs but lack of access to jobs–and urging him to create jobs in the tradition of his predecessor Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. The letter was signed by NJFAN Advisory Board member Franklin D. Roosevelt III, NJFAC Chair Trudy Goldberg, and Executive Committee member Noreen Connell who initiated this project.

After reading the letter, Executive Committee member Alan Aja suggested that our call for job creation reach a wider audience. With more current data on unemployment and again taking issue with Mayor Adam’s inaccurate definition of the employment problem, the following op-ed appeared in the New York Daily News March 19th. The response has been very positive, including some interest on the part of elected officials.

Officeholders all over the country need to hear from you about jobs and wages in your city or state. We urge you to follow the example of our leaders. Let the public and their representatives know how you define the problem and the solution. Let us know your action and public responses to it so that we can share the news with other advocates of a Job Guarantee.

The problem, Mr. Mayor, is too few jobs — not too little access
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS | MAR 19, 2022, AT 5:00 AM

Amid the crowded Democratic primary for mayor, some candidates, including Maya Wiley, Dianne Morales and Scott Stringer, promised upwards of 100,000 new jobs with “hire local” provisions. But candidate Eric Adams had no such plans. He asserted that “the biggest problem is not lack of jobs, it’s the lack of access to jobs.” Since problem definitions are the basis for problem solutions, it is important to refute Adams’ assertion that there is no lack of jobs in New York City.

A recent report from the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs painted a startling reality quite counter to that of Adams. Despite a marginal economic recovery over the last year that still leaves the city behind the rest of the country, the city’s pandemic jobs deficit in January 2022 stood at 317,000 jobs, or 6.8% (compared to -2.3% nationwide), and its latest unemployment rate is 7.3%, almost twice the seasonally adjusted national figure. For Black and Hispanic communities, the unemployment rate during the latest quarter was even more alarming — 15.2% and 10.2%, respectively.

Moreover, official unemployment rates seriously undercount real joblessness because they omit part-time workers who want but are unable to get full-time jobs and persons who would like a job but aren’t currently looking for such reasons as lack of child care, transportation and — during a pandemic — fear of contagion.

In a recent edition of its Unheard Third series, the Community Service Society of New York found that the majority of low-income New Yorkers perceive employment conditions quite differently from the mayor. Among their major concerns, they rank the lack of jobs just below COVID. While Adams’ proposals for “community skills mapping” and improved job postings may be marginally helpful, these efforts amount to a cruel game of musical chairs so long as there are too few jobs to go around. Put differently, job training does not create jobs, nor does more education or training guarantee either a job or a livable wage for low-income New Yorkers.

Instead of programs designed to address these serious problems, Adams has rolled out plans consistent with his narrow vision: that a few quick fixes will create careers for low-income New Yorkers. He unveiled a “next-level” workforce development strategy involving training and public-private partnerships. Most recently, he announced an expanded summer youth employment program for 100,000 young people.

We’ve been here before. Even in pre-pandemic times, job training and exposure to corporate culture for a few summer months did not “create” jobs. Nor does more education or “credentialing” guarantee a job or a corresponding wage.

We urge Adams to focus, instead, on job creation. Three years ago, the National Jobs for All Network (NJFAN) worked with the office of then-Public Advocate Letitia James on job creation legislation to be introduced into the City Council. This New York City Jobs for All Job Assurance Plan proposed to create more than 150,000 jobs, launching aggressive climate abatement efforts and expanding the effectiveness of city agencies in providing after-school activities, skills training and community and arts programs.

Although creating sufficient jobs to fill the omnipresent job gap in New York City is the heart of this full-employment proposal for New York City, job training would be available within this program for whatever skills workers need to perform their jobs competently. This, we believe, is the proper relation of job training to job creation. In addition, through a jobs assurance program, the threat of unemployment and wage exploitation is not only addressed, but job discrimination in the labor market at large is also reduced.

There is a historical precedent for a New York City job creation campaign to reduce unemployment by means of job creation. In the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia — in a partnership with the federal government — made a major assault on joblessness and, in the process, built bridges, theaters, parks, tunnels, and public art. With national calls for a Green New Deal, a state-to-local level campaign for a New Deal for CUNY, and a federal administration poised to address the climate change crisis and the neglect of our infrastructure, Adams has the opportunity to cement a legacy of job creation. Job training alone won’t get us there.

Goldberg is Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, Professor Emerita of Social Work and Social Policy, Adelphi University and chair of the National Jobs for All Network.

Connell is a former assistant commissioner of the NYS Department of Labor, a former president of NYS National Organization for Women, and board member, National Jobs for All Network.

Aja is professor and chair in the department of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and a board member of the National Jobs for All Network.

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