September 2, 2001. The decade of boom was a bust for most New York workers and their families. Although the state’s economy grew, average New York families’ living standards are lower than in 1989, despite working more hours to make ends meet. Press release below.


The Decade of Boom: A Bust for Most New York Workers and Their Families

State’s economy grows but average New York families have not regained living standards of 1989 despite working more hours to make ends meet

A decade of record-setting economic expansion nationally has produced a mixed picture for New York workers and their families, according to a new report by the Fiscal Policy Institute on the “The State of Working New York.” Median incomes and wages went up between 1997 and 2000, but not as much as they did in the nation as a whole, and not enough to restore most workers’ standards of living to what they were a decade or even two decades ago.

The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) is an economic think tank that focuses on issues that affect the quality of life and economic well-being of New York State residents. Its new analysis of the state’s economy and its ten regions presents stark regional differences. The Upstate economy has been relatively stagnant, benefiting little from the national expansion. Downstate economic growth has been highly dependent on Wall Street, and many residents of New York City’s outer boroughs are still struggling.

Using a wide range of government data, “The State of Working New York” shows that either in a boom or in a bust, pay and living conditions for New York workers are far from what they should be, given the resources that are available in their state. “If we want an economy that works for all New Yorkers, the data tell us that the key cannot be just growth. We also need to look at the nature of that growth, and how it affects workers and their families across the entire spectrum,” said Frank Mauro, FPI’s executive director. “These data clearly show the need to improve conditions for families who are not benefiting from the current economy, and the ability of the state to do so,” according to James Parrott, FPI’s deputy director and chief economist.

The good news is: the potential for all New Yorkers to do well remains great. New York’s share of U.S. gross state domestic product in 1999 was 25% higher than the state’s share of U.S. workers–meaning that on average New York workers are 25% more productive than the average worker nationally.

The bad news is that New York has experienced more extreme polarization than the rest of the nation, leaving many New York families struggling with greater debt burdens and working longer hours. Recent growth in wages for New York’s workers at the bottom and middle has been so fragile that an economic slowdown would jeopardize the small gains that have occurred.

After a decade of record economic growth, “The State of Working New York” identifies four major trends:

  1. The growth of the median wage in New York trailed the growth of the median wage in the nation over the period 1997-2000; in 2000-2001 New York’s median wage fell, while in the U.S. it increased.
  2. Median family income is up slightly in recent years. But the growth is modest, and workers have had to work longer hours to achieve even these small gains.
  3. New York’s economic growth has been uneven throughout the 1990s. Upstate growth lagged during the expansion and jobs in its growing industries are generally low-wage jobs. The downstate region is heavily dependent on Wall Street, and its suburbs are more dependent on New York City now compared to the beginning of the 1990s.
  4. Over the past decade, the median wage for people of color fell significantly faster than for whites. Among men, Hispanics lost ground three times as fast as whites and blacks two times as fast. Among women, whites remained constant while black and Hispanic women lost ground.

Some of the report’s other major findings

  1. Median 4-person families in the six benchmark states all had higher rates of income growth over this period than families in New York. (The benchmark states are the 5 large Northern industrial states of Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as California.
  2. By the end of the decade New York’s median wages still trailed their 1989 level by 5.1%. Median wages in the U.S. rose by 2.2% over the same period.
  3. New York’s married couple families are working four more hours each week than they were a decade ago.
  4. Fully 37% of New York’s families have incomes below the level needed to afford a basic needs family budget, according to new data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute.
  5. Family income inequality increased sharply in New York in the 1990s. The “Top-to-Bottom Ratio” of the average income of the top-earning quintile of families to the bottom-earning quintile grew from 10.4 to 14.1. The equivalent U.S. increase was 9.3 to 10.6.
  6. Between 1997 and 2000, the male-female wage gap widened again, after narrowing from 1989 through 1997.
  7. After reductions since 1997 in personal bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures, these are starting to rise again in New York. From the first quarter of 2000 to 2001, personal bankruptcies have increased sharply by 16.8% and mortgage foreclosures turned upward in the first quarter of 2001.
  8. Among the high-wage states, New York maintains the lowest minimum wage, $5.15 an hour. New York’s minimum weekly wage equals just 25.4% of its average weekly wage, based on a 40-hour workweek.
  9. Manufacturing employment in New York declined continuously over the decade. The state’s manufacturing sector contracted 26.1% during the 1990s. In contrast, manufacturing jobs actually grew in the nation and in the benchmark states between mid-1993 and 1998.
  10. Private, employer-provided health insurance dropped by 8.8 percentage points from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. Fully 18.5% of New Yorkers under the age of sixty-five lacked health insurance in 1999–placing New York’s rate of uninsured higher than the nation’s.
  11. In sharp contrast to the 5.1% growth in private employer pension coverage recorded nationally over the decade, private employer pension coverage in New York remained flat, growing just 0.1% between the late 1980s and the late 1990s.

New York’s Regions

  1. Despite the fact that job growth from 1989-2000 was stronger upstate than downstate – reflecting the severity of the early 1990s recession in the downstate region – real personal income growth from 1990-99 was twice as great downstate as it was upstate (1.9% vs. 0.9%).
  2. The recent slowdown has reduced the pace of job growth in most of the state’s metropolitan areas. Buffalo, Rochester, Utica-Rome and Jamestown all have job growth of under 0.4% from the first half of 2000 to the first half of 2001.
  3. Economic weaknesses upstate have led to out-migration and population declines. Five upstate regions, Mohawk Valley, the Southern Tier, Central New York, Western New York and the North Country experienced zero to negative population growth between 1990 and 2000.
  4. All regions experienced significant employment declines in the manufacturing sector, and most saw declines in banking, gas and electric utilities and hospitals. In many of New York’s regions, government, construction, temporary help, and computer and data processing services were among the top industries with the most jobs gained between 1992 and 2000. Job gains were also generally recorded in individual and family services and nursing/personal care services.
  5. The average wage in many of the fastest-growing regional industries is too low to support a family of one adult and one child at a Self-Sufficiency Standard, which takes into account basic needs, e.g. housing, child care, food, transportation and health care.