New York City’s unemployment rate fell over the last year, according to the state Department of Labor-but does that mean more New Yorkers are working? Does that really mean our economy is improving?
As of January, the city’s preliminary unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, nearly a full percent lower than it was at the same time last year. Further research is needed to determine the final figure, the Labor Department noted.
Delving deeper into the stats, the Bronx and Brooklyn continue to have the highest number of unemployed persons in the five boroughs. Bronx’s January unemployment rate was 11.2 percent, followed by Brooklyn with 8.9 percent. Even so, the rates dropped in both boroughs over the last year.
On the surface, this may seem to be a positive sign of a strengthening New York City economy and, in a sense, the national economy as well. There are a couple of variables, however, that weave through the statistics in the labor market and twist and turn the figures in different ways.
For instance, there may be a work force that is employed in the part time market when they can’t find jobs in the full time market. According to the Labor Department, they are still working and that brings the unemployment rate down, but it’s a false positive.
Part-time or full-time, low-wage or modest-wage, a job is a job-and it’s counted as such by the Labor Department when issuing unemployment calculations. But charts, statistics and maps alone do not tell the whole story.
Even with a recovering job market, the types of work have been concentrated in low-wage service sectors such as home health care, food preparation, retail and temporary-hiring companies. It has been reported that nearly one out of every 13 jobs is at a restaurant, bar or other food-service establishment-a record high.
These positions historically offer low wages; in many instances, workers receive the bare minimum under law. The proliferation of low-wage employment continues a troubling trend in the U.S. the last four decades, with wages falling even though Americans are more productive than ever.
Moreover, businesses are offering workers fewer benefits such as health care and pensions. Some companies are trying to get around the Affordable Care Act and the insane prices of health benefits by leaving their workers to purchase their own health insurance, rather than provide it at the company’s expense.
This is why more people are turning to the government for all sorts of benefits to supplement their earnings-or, for a few, as an alternative to working long hours for little return.
Politicians either love or hate public benefits, but no matter what they believe, they all seem mute when it comes to the one real solution to income inequality, a stagnant economy and enormous government spending: creating full-time jobs in the private sector which pay living wages that allow workers not only to pay their bills, but to save and spend a few dollars at their leisure.
Until governments on all levels support programs to create solid jobs with solid wages, talk of reduced unemployment rates is absolutely meaningless.