New York City Already Has Lots of Jobs, Thank You

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Amazon.com Inc.’s decision to pull the plug on locating a big new sort-of-second-headquarters complex in New York City has generated so many takes that by this point they should probably count as their own form of job creation. I’m not going to add to the supply! But I do have some context to offer.

New York City Already Has Lots of Jobs, Thank You

After treading water for almost half a century, New York City employment has taken off since the late 1990s, with the most spectacular gains since 2010. And yes, cutting off the y-axis at 3 million does accentuate the spectacle, so in case that bothers you (it needn’t), here it is with the y-axis set to zero:

New York City Already Has Lots of Jobs, Thank You

New York City has added almost a million jobs since the end of 2003 and almost 800,000 since 2009. The 25,000 jobs that Amazon said it would bring to the city over the next decade certainly aren’t nothing, but they’re much less of a big deal than they would be in any other U.S. city — or than they would have been in the New York City of the 1950s through 1990s.

The numbers above are reported by employers, so they show the number of jobs in New York rather than the number of New Yorkers with jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also offers an estimate of the latter going back to 1976, so here are the two on the same chart:

New York City Already Has Lots of Jobs, Thank You

The main dynamic at work here, I think, is that after decades of losing jobs to its suburbs, New York City has over the past 15 years reclaimed its role as the region’s employment engine. Since December 2003, payroll employment is up 27.2 percent in the city versus 5.9 percent in the rest of the New York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area. It would be hard for employment among New Yorkers to keep up with that blistering pace, so the divergence between the two lines since 2010 isn’t necessarily worrying. But the slowdown in employment growth for New York City residents over the past couple of years might be.

Here’s another way to look at jobs in the city, by dividing employment (using the second measure) by population:

New York City Already Has Lots of Jobs, Thank You

New York City’s employment-population ratio has gone from miles behind the national average to pretty close. But again, the gap has stopped narrowing lately. I wouldn’t make too much of this; the New York City numbers are “model-based” estimates, and differences in the demographic profiles of the U.S. and New York City may explain some of the disparity. It is nonetheless at least possibly a signal that New York City’s jobs boom is failing to benefit a lot of New York City residents. Here’s another possible signal:

New York City Already Has Lots of Jobs, Thank You

The gap between New York City’s poverty rate and the nation’s has gotten smaller, but it still seems like quite a chasm for a city that has added payroll jobs at nearly twice the national pace over the past 15 years. If you wanted to make the argument that New York City is already creating more than enough jobs — and ought to be focusing its attention on other priorities — there are a lot of data to back you up.

I’m not going to make that argument. I’ve gotten this far without really offering a take, so I’m not going to mess that up now. Plus, it seems like the optimal economic strategy would involve continuing to pull in new jobs while also building lots of housing, improving public transportation and fighting poverty (and somehow finding a way to keep government spending from exploding). Without the jobs boom of the past 15 years, it’s hard to envision how New York City could even hope to make progress on the other areas, and I’ve been pretty critical in the past of those who argue that the jobs boom has ruined New York. Still, one can’t really deny that New York City is already quite successful at attracting jobs, and less so at just about everything else.

They don't seem to, though, given that 44.5 percent of New York City's population is in the prime working years of 25 through 54, compared with 39.5 percent for the U.S.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”

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