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New York City: The Lowest Unemployment Rate in 30 years

Posted by: Michael Mandel on November 20

This is a followup to my “musical chairs economy” piece. According to a new report from the New York State Labor Department, the unemployment rate in New York City dropped to 4.1% in October, “reaching its lowest level on record.” (The data starts in the mid-1970s).

4.1%. 4.1%. 4.1%
New York City. Manhattan. Brooklyn. Queens. Staten Island. The Bronx.

The Bronx! With an unemployment rate of 5.5%, down from 7.5% a year earlier.

What the heck is going on here? Is this really the best NYC economy in thirty years?

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Reader Comments

M.T. Paige

November 20, 2006 05:32 PM

I am not from NYC...I have never even been there. I would dare to guess, however, that a good economy there may have something to do with the fact that they have a very intelligent businessman at the helm.


November 20, 2006 10:41 PM

Humanity continues to get better at producing everything we need to survive and live in excess. We also have also had a great increase in our ability to communicate over the last 30 years. Why would it be a surprise that at the peak of our economic upturn (I think we are at the peak) our metrics would better than any time in the past? We have 10,000 years of cumulative learning behind us and are currently in the sharp up-slope of an exponential improvement in everything human. This is hard to see sometimes when there are still cycles in the economy.

It is also hard to see when the fear mongers are so seductive. I think people are lost without fear. We were built to live in a scary environment. Now that most scary things are behind us, we are out of balance. A person with a large voice can easily strike up fear in the public. This is how we got the Kyoto protocol. It would be interesting to see a study on the economics of fear. There are plenty of examples from the past to study. People once believed that pasteurized milk was dangerous. Today it is illegal in some places to irradiate strawberries, even though it is just as safe as pasteurization. In the 1920s they told us we were running out of oil.

Michael, I’m surprised that a man of your intellect as been persuaded by the fear mongers to doubt what you know is true. Humanity is, in so many ways, better off today than it has ever been.

The other day as I helped my dad load up some wood he was buying for winter, I smelled the smoke coming from the seller’s chimney. It reminded me of an old settlement recreation I visited. Ahhh, how much cleaner the air in New York today is compared to the air people breathed in ancient civilizations or even New York itself—not so long ago.

Don Robertson

November 20, 2006 11:22 PM

Yeh. So they found a new way to measure unemployment, so what? Maybe it's because NYC has run enough people out of town they no longer are considered residents. Who knows? How many NYC residents are in jail right now? Add them to your tally. How many died of heroin or Oxycontin overdose in the last year? Add them to the tally too. Have you got a crystal meth epidemic going on down there? Ditto. Are your hospitals full? Maybe everyone is so sick with polution they're not on the roles any more.

I don't know when all these economists are going to get it through their heads, the government's unemployment numbers mean nothing. They're like the CBS news with Katie Couric, laughable, if you've a really sick sense of humor.

I'll bet all those hookers David Letterman is always talking about aren't considered unemployed.

Now, figure out a way to measure standard of living, and I'll be impressed. Does everyone still carry a gun or have a body guard who carries one for them?

Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
Limestone, Maine

Mike Mandel

November 21, 2006 11:48 AM

Don, I work in NYC and there's no doubt that the city feels safer than it has in years. So no need for a bodyguard.

However, I do take your point about all the people in prisons, who are not counted as part of the unemployed.


November 21, 2006 12:27 PM

I think NYC is the model for the direction of the nation and world - an narrow upper crust growing increasingly wealthy and a growing blue collar community helped by globalization since they can't be displaced. (Not much manufacturing there.) Lacking is much of a middle class that is being displaced.

Brandon W

November 21, 2006 04:58 PM

Let me take a different tact than usual, here. I'll presume the 4.1% figure is correct; at the very least the relative drop in unemployment is correct even if the headline number has a hundred flaws. And let's assume the figure was calcuated the same way today as it was a year ago (certainly not a given).
If employment is so good in NYC, we should be studying "why". Particularly if the unemployment in the Bronx has dropped 2% in one year, we need to study why. Has it come with a big drop in median income, or not? Where are all these jobs coming from? In what industries? And how can people transfer skills that quickly? If we did that, we would either have a fantastic model on which to build across the nation, or we would find a major flaw in the perceived improvement. I would hope for the former, but expect the latter.


November 21, 2006 07:41 PM

Don Robertson,

Standard of Living has risen. Look at life expectancy. Look at GDP per capita. Look at declining crime rates.

You are using anecdotal examples to justify your deap-seated pessimism. This makes your own success in this economy less likely. Success involves risk-taking, for which one needs optimism and realism, not irrational pessimism.


November 25, 2006 12:30 AM

The other day as I helped my dad load up some wood he was buying for winter, I smelled the smoke coming from the seller’s chimney. It reminded me of an old settlement recreation I visited. Ahhh, how much cleaner the air in New York today is compared to the air people breathed in ancient civilizations or even New York itself—not so long ago.

It's always amazing how people can get used to the most obnoxious of smells - and think their air is clean.

When I go to NYC in the summertime (yes, Manhattan, not the Bronx) I'm *immediately* assaulted by the smell of garbage and body odor that permeates the warm air.

Some times, when it's cooler, the smell of decay and human sardines subsides and vehicle and restaurant exhaust fumes dominate the olfactory sense.

Clean air?! In NYC?! You think it's clean because you've become numb to the smells of your specific pollutants.


November 27, 2006 06:07 AM

Hi Mike,

Is there any data on how many of those jobs are second and/or third employments? Does holding one job exclude someone from being recounted for another position?


Mike Mandel

November 27, 2006 11:30 AM


The unemployment data counts people, not jobs. So people who are employed in two jobs are only counted once. So that can't explain the low unemployment rate


December 12, 2006 02:29 AM

It's the financial and artistic capital of the world. That's why unemployment is so low.

The most successful people and corporations are here and that's why the cost of living is high. And for the record that price is paying for the cleanest and safest NYC in 30 years.

We could all move to Maine. Or Canada for that matter for fresh air and open spaces. But if you want to be a part of Capitalism at its finest, if you want to build a career, this is THE city to be in.

Those of us who are willing to live and spend here are being rewarded, even if we need to travel a few miles for open space, beaches and skiing.

Chris Sgarlata

January 8, 2007 09:48 PM

Main reason for "lowest unemployment rate in history" - well, mainly because the unemployment rate is a pretty crappy metric that relies on a dubious denominator ("labor farce", er "labor force").

A much better metric would be employed-to-population (as opposed to the employed-to-"labor force" for the so-called unemployment rate).

Take a look at the statistical table building tool at (specifically - see link under "Get Detailed State and Metro Area Statistics").

If you use the tool you will discover that (mirable dictu) NYC somehow has the "lowest unemployment rate in history" even though it has over 100k *fewer* persons employed than in *2000*.

Yep, guess all those workers in 2000 just decided to take the next *6 years* off...even better, circa 2003 - 250k had made the same "voluntary" choice only to mysteriously reverse field ("voluntarily" of course) over the next 3 years.

Ah, the mysteries of human workplace motivation - as opposed to, say, the mendacity of government statistical reporting...

Bottom line - when it comes to the unemployment rate's worth as a metric - garbage in, garbage out. NY is a net population loser because the economy *still* has not recovered to the levels of 2000.


April 9, 2008 08:25 PM

One Word Giuliani
OK and maybee bloomburg

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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