The June 2017 employment figures released last week by the state labor department show no slacking of the unprecedented surge in job creation that began eight years ago in America’s largest city. According to a data series measuring current statistics, employment in New York City hit 4,439,800 in June. That data series showed employment to have increased by 101,100 since June 2016, and 692,000 since June 2010. That’s more new jobs in seven years in New York City than there are people in Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia, Greene and Sullivan counties combined.
Unsurprisingly, the unemployment rate was the lowest it’s been in any June for 40 years.
Like the Energizer bunny, the New York City economy just keeps going and going and going. But its spillover beyond Gotham’s suburban core has been limited. How can more exurban areas like the mid-Hudson region share in the extraordinary growth in jobs that New York City is continuing to generate?
The historic balance between the upstate and downstate economies is a convenient political fiction. Upstate has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the same 2010-2017 period. With the New York City metro area counties added to the city total, the proportion of jobs in New York City and five of its suburban counties (Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Orange) has now reached 68 percent of the state’s total employment.
The New York City jobs-producing machine has shrugged off concerns about long commutes, an unreliable transportation system, population overcrowding, unaffordable housing, a shrinking pool of job-available persons, and an uncertain political climate. It has just kept going and going and going.
How long can this extraordinary New York City jobs boom continue?
This past February, some prognosticators thought they had finally detected the inevitable wobble. In Crain’s New York, Greg David worried that the slowdown in job growth in the fourth quarter of last year wasn’t the only sign “that something is changing in the city’s economy.” Similarly, New York City comptroller Scott Stringer in a February report noted rising unemployment as among the “indicators that show a slowdown” in the same quarter.
Retired after a seven-year campaign, the Energizer bunny was soon revived. Its run was not yet over.
Neither was the New York City economy’s. Concern over last year’s fourth-quarter New York City economic flattening proved premature. The jobs boom kept going. By this May’s report, Stringer was singing a more optimistic tune.
Private-sector jobs in the first quarter of this year showed the biggest increase in almost three years, he said. The unemployment rate had fallen to a record low, and labor-force participation was the highest it had been in three years. Despite some signs of weakness, the city comptroller opined, the city’s leading economic indicators still pointed to continued growth.
Widely used as a predictor of economic direction, the New York Federal Reserve’s index of coincident economic indicators tells the same story. The New York metropolitan area economy may have weakened in some ways, but the forward movement of its jobs picture has remained.
The new jobs in New York City are being created in all kinds of industries. In the past year, more than 60 percent of the increase was in health services and in professional and business services, and 20 percent more in the tourism and cultural industries. Other selected sectors — education, real estate and administrative services come to mind — were also job creators.
New York City is no one-industry town. The new jobs are in various industries and occupations, at various levels of skill and specialization, and have varying degrees of portability and flexibility. Individual jobholders may seek greener pastures, but employers in large cities often want to be in the same neighborhoods as their competitors. They want to be where the action is.
“Industries” are a familiar way of categorizing work. Devised at a time when most jobs were characterized by regular paychecks and the anticipation of lifetime employment, these categories weren’t designed for the changed nature of current employment.
As we know, the gig economy is having a major effect on job patterns. The evolution of information technology has been disruptive not only to traditional industries but also to the ways that many employees see employment. There are more jobs than ever, but in many cases they’re not the same jobs. The social media are widening the cultural disconnects between employers and employees.
Here’s my hypothesis. The suburban ring is providing New York City daily commuters mostly for jobs that require a physical presence. Workers in the exurban area beyond the suburban core, such as the mid-Hudson region, are more likely to have a more peripheral presence in Gotham: independent contractors, artists of various stripes, higher-skilled specialized technical or service workers, part-time or seasonal employees, etc.
Will these outer-ring workers be of sufficient numbers to constitute a significant economic presence in the region? I would argue that they already are such a presence, and that their numbers are rapidly increasing because of the recent influx of young millennials to the region.