This fall’s election highlighted a deep undercurrent of anxiety that the American Dream is eroding.
People have real reason to be worried. New data from Stanford’s Raj Chetty illustrates that with every passing decade since the 1940s, Americans have become less and less likely to out-earn their parents.
Donald Trump tapped into that anxiety to great effect. But blaming immigrants, weakening labor unions, eliminating health-care coverage for millions of Americans, privatizing infrastructure, and rolling back financial-sector regulation won’t restore upward mobility. Trump’s voters will be sorely disappointed.
Still, it’s not enough for progressives to highlight the flaws in Trump’s economic policies. We must lead the way with policies that do better to create and share economic opportunity—with immigrants, people-of-color, and white working-class families alike. Chetty’s new data holds the key: It shows that downward economic mobility is due primarily to the rise of inequality, even more than slower growth. The way to restore upward mobility is through more equal growth.
In New York City, that’s exactly what we are working to do. Over the last four decades, New York City has faced similar challenges to other cities across the nation: stagnant wages, disinvestment, the loss of assembly-line manufacturing, rising health-care costs, and more. But our answer has not been to fear change, blame immigrants, or build walls. Instead, we are combining strategic investments and progressive regulation to forge the path to a thriving and more equal economy.
Here’s what that looks like on the ground, in New York City:
1) Investing in sectors for inclusive growth
As the economy has shifted, we have responded by investing in sectors that have real potential for growth—including applied sciences, technology, and modern manufacturing—and that create good jobs that are accessible to workers of all backgrounds and skill levels.
We are building a major new applied-sciences campus on Roosevelt Island, initiated during the Bloomberg administration and on track to open later this year with groundbreaking new programs in health technology and connective media. We will invest $500 million to spur thousands of new jobs in New York City’s emerging biotech and life-sciences industries.
We are transforming the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal (once part of America’s military infrastructure) into modern industrial parks by providing state-of-the-art, affordable work space for hundreds of companies employing tens of thousands of New Yorkers in manufacturing, technology, design, and film/TV production. And our just-announced $250 million hub for technology and innovation near Union Square will allow New Yorkers to develop digital skills, provide space for tech start-ups, and serve as the home for the burgeoning “civic tech” community.
Crucially, in all of this work, we are ensuring that people of all backgrounds have the skills and resources to access new opportunities—through comprehensive STEM education, robust workforce-development programs, and continued efforts to increase capacity of minority- and women-owned business enterprises.
2) Embracing diversity
Immigration has not harmed New York City’s economy; it has renewed it. In 2010, immigrant-founded small businesses produced more than $775 billion in sales and $100 billion in income—and paid over $126 billion in payroll taxes. It’s no wonder the crowd cheers every night on Broadway, when Hamilton and Lafayette declare: “Immigrants, we get the job done.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have made clear that we will continue to welcome and protect immigrants. Being a “sanctuary city” doesn’t just mean refusing to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) target New York City immigrants for deportation. It also means helping to make sure they have real access to economic opportunity.
That’s why we’re investing in programs like the Tech Talent Pipeline, which fosters the digital skills of New Yorkers of all backgrounds, and IN2NYC, which helps international entrepreneurs attain visas that allow them to bring innovative companies to New York City. New York City is ensuring that people of all backgrounds have the skills and opportunities to realize the American dream.
Through a comprehensive overhaul of our contracting process, we’re ensuring that Minority and Women-Owned Businesses (MWBEs) have a more equal chance at competing for city projects. And we’re also expanding manufacturing jobs that are accessible to thousands of New Yorkers of different skill levels and language proficiencies, creating pathways to and through the middle class.
3) Revitalizing neighborhoods through public investment
Though New York City has grown dramatically over the past decades, too many neighborhoods have been left behind. Some of our communities face systemic challenges that stem from decades of disinvestment. Inwood, Jamaica, the South Bronx, and Far Rockaway are geographically close to affluent hubs, but chronic unemployment, decaying infrastructure, and lack of transit have deprived local residents of the opportunities they deserve.
To turn this around, the City of New York is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in traditionally underserved neighborhoods. We are creating affordable housing units and new parks, improving infrastructure and connections to transit, and bringing new health-care access to New Yorkers who need it most.
These neighborhood investments also include incentives for local small businesses which hire more New Yorkers in quality careers. And we are requiring businesses that receive those incentives—and, increasingly, anyone who does business with the City—to use our targeted hiring program to provide jobs for local residents.
If the president wants to make a real commitment to infrastructure, he should help us target investments to underserved communities yearning to share in our nation’s prosperity and productivity.
4) Insisting on good jobs
Investments in inclusive growth are good launching pads—but on their own, they won’t do enough to narrow the income gaps that Chetty’s team identified. So New York City is also adopting progressive regulation to insist that corporations improve traditionally low-wage jobs.
When fast-food workers launched their first “Fight for $15” strike four years ago, few took them seriously. But we were proud to support them—and the path they blazed has already helped more than 22 million workers across the country get a raise through minimum-wage increases, with 10 million (including those in New York City) on a path to $15 per hour.
Our next step in New York is to put an end to unfair scheduling practices in low-wage sectors, and to make sure fast-food and other retail workers have a “fair work week.” With $15 an hour, two weeks advance notice of their schedules, paid sick days, the ability to seek flexibility for caregiving and emergencies, and a path to full-time hours, fast-food and other low-wage workers have a real chance to make ends meet.
We’ve worked with New York City’s labor unions to develop policies to protect car-wash and industrial laundry workers from dangerous chemicals and from wage theft, and to make sure that building-service, grocery-store, and hotel workers are not unceremoniously fired when a new operator takes over.
Better jobs aren’t just good for workers and their families. Economist Zeynep Ton has shown that this “good jobs strategy”—paying a living wage, providing benefits, and investing in workers—works for businesses too, even in traditionally low-wage retail and service sectors. And workers with higher wages and more job stability are better for the neighborhoods where they live, and for our city as a whole.
5) Fighting discrimination that blocks opportunity
Since we can’t rely on the Trump administration to protect the civil, labor, and employment rights of New Yorkers, we’re ramping up New York City’s ability to do so.
We’ve strengthened New York City’s Human Rights Law to prohibit employment discrimination against New Yorkers with criminal records, to ban employment credit checks that lock out people with poor credit histories (often through no fault of their own), and to better protect immigrant, LGBTQ, transgender, and pregnant New Yorkers from workplace discrimination.
We’re making sure employers don’t ask salary histories before a job offer—a practice that discriminates against women. We’re putting in place new policies to support the growing ranks of gig-economy workers who lack critical protections, rights, benefits, and the ability to organize. New York City’s “Freelance Isn’t Free Act” is the first bill of its kind to protect freelance workers from being stiffed.
And we’ve created a new Office of Labor Standards and Policy to enforce rights granted by New York City law (like paid sick leave) and to make sure workers know their workplace rights under state and federal law, and have access to groups to help enforce it.
Strategic investments and smart regulation go hand in hand to guide more equal growth. We’re already seeing the results. More than 65,000 New Yorkers climbed out of poverty in 2014 and 2015. Median incomes rose to their highest levels since the 2008 recession. New York City employers have created 276,000 new jobs since 2014 in both traditional and emerging sectors. And we’re just getting started.
By creating pathways to and through the middle class for working families, by opening up our economy to the city’s full and vibrant diversity, by investing in neighborhoods, by insisting on good jobs, by preventing discrimination—this is how we equip New Yorkers with the opportunities not only to weather change but to thrive in and benefit from the growth of our city.
In the long run, of course, the challenges of building a more equal economy demand national solutions. But for now, cities will have to lead the way.