Friday, March 26, 2010

Not My Job: Making a Bad Situation Worse

NYC's unemployment rate dropped slightly in February, but the rate is still, as the NY Times reports, "significantly higher," than the nation's: "The city’s official unemployment rate was 10.2 percent last month, down from 10.4 percent in January, the State Department of Labor reported on Thursday. That was still significantly higher than the national unemployment rate, which was 9.7 percent in February."

How many New Yorkers are out of work? Well, according to the Times: "Since the recession took hold in the New York metropolitan region in 2008, the city has lost a total of 167,500 jobs, said Barbara Byrne Denham, chief economist with Eastern Consolidated, a real estate investment services firm in Manhattan...Still, nearly 845,000 New York residents were unable to find jobs last month, and more than 607,000 of them were collecting unemployment benefits."

Now, amazingly, none of these grim facts have anything to do with Mayor Michael Bloomberg-or any other city elected official-it is all the result of a natural disaster phenomenon known as the national recession-an event that transcends the ability of any local leader to remedy. How convenient to have such a handy scapegoat.

The fact is that the mayor, and the city council as well, have done all they can to make the city's economic environment as bad as possible-piling on mandates, fines and taxes for the city's local businesses. And the re-introduction of paid sick leave requirement yesterday is yet another example of this trend. Now we understand all of the righteous arguments for the sick leave measure, but when the city has just begun to try to pull itself out of its job hemorrhaging it might not be the right moment to place another costly mandate on local firms-particularly in a city that has been duly recognized as one of the worst places to do business in.

But we're not surprised, since the council's own budget in the midst of the economic meltdown has just been cavalierly increased. As the NY Daily News reports: "The City Council has some chutzpah. As the rest of city government is being forced to swallow big budget cuts, the City Council increased its own new budget Thursday by 4.6% - to $52.9 million for the budget year that starts July 1. That's $2.3 million more than the budget they approved this time last year, though five months later the Council doled out 4% raises to staffers."

This is the experienced leadership team that we needed to keep on for a third term? So what we see here is a tone deafness and an escape from responsibility-and it is the mayor who is the primary escapee. It seems that none of this is actually his fault, and he spent tens of millions of dollars to convince New Yorkers that we needed his steady hand during these troubled times; eliding any responsibility for the mess, while promoting fantasy economic recovery plans that were simply recycled from past campaigns.

For the past eight years Bloomberg has played the grasshopper to the private sector ant-playing at expanding the city government while businesses in the city-particularly neighborhood retailers-were being forced into bankruptcy at record numbers. Now he and the city council continue there regulatory mania-adding, on top of the proposed sick leave rule, scarlet letters for restaurants and huge disgusting tobacco prevention signs for bodega store windows-blithely ignoring the negative economic consequences of their efforts.

All of this indicates that out local elected leaders remain clueless about the extent to which their own actions have impacted-and exacerbated-the economic downturn. Scarily, this local mindset is now being replicated on a national level, and the country as a whole is well on the road to an insolvency hell paved with noble intentions.