Job growth key issue in governor's race

Iron workers guide the final steel beam into place at the Clinical Sciences Center under construction at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo in 2014. 

Job creation in New York State under Gov. Andrew Cuomo is akin to a tale of two cities. There is New York City – and everyplace else.

New York City added more than 600,000 jobs since Cuomo took office in 2011. That’s a 16 percent jump, well above the national average of 11 percent and better than all but five states.

Job growth is more modest elsewhere in the Empire State — and downright anemic upstate.

Employment in New York’s City’s suburbs – Long Island and Orange, Rockland and Westchester counties – grew by 7.4 percent between December 2010, the month before Cuomo took office, and December 2016.

Meanwhile, job growth upstate was only 2.7 percent – a quarter of the national average.

Four of upstate’s 12 major metropolitan centers lost jobs under Cuomo’s watch.

If it were a state, upstate New York’s job growth would rank fourth-worst in the nation, below, among others, Mississippi.

What’s more, 88 percent of the net jobs added upstate during the Cuomo years have been in low-wage sectors, led by restaurants and bars, employment data shows.

The data contradicts Cuomo’s claims that upstate has rebounded under his tenure.

“Economic success is shared all across the state. It’s not just New York City that’s doing well, it’s the entire state,” the governor declared in his 2017 State of the State address in Syracuse.

Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, which produced the job and wage analysis used by Investigative Post, offered a different take on what’s happening upstate.

“Poor job creation, poor return on investment,” he said.

And a big investment it is – $8.6 billion spent on economic development by state and local government last year alone. Much of the money – $25 billion by Cuomo’s estimate – has been earmarked to help upstate’s long-struggling economy since the governor took office. And Cuomo has proposed a major increase in economic development spending for the coming fiscal year.

New York’s job growth of 9.6 percent ranked 21st among the states, between December 2010 and December 2016. The surge in hiring in New York City, which buoyed that increase, does not surprise Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a national subsidy watchdog organization.

“New York City’s strong performance is typical of large coastal metro areas - think Boston, think San Francisco — they are the stars of the U.S. economy. It’s the second- and third-tier markets, like those in upstate New York, that are really hurting,” LeRoy said.

Thanks in large part to New York City, the Empire State added jobs at a faster clip than most Northeast and Midwest states. For example, employment in neighboring Connecticut grew by 3.7 percent; in Pennsylvania by 4.5 percent; and in New Jersey by 6.8 percent.

The jobs picture is gloomier upstate.

Four of upstate’s 12 largest metropolitan areas – Binghamton, Elmira, Watertown and Utica-Rome – actually lost jobs. Only two of the remaining metro areas – Albany and Ithaca – registered growth that approached the national average.

Meanwhile, employment in the Buffalo and Rochester metropolitan regions, the two largest in upstate, grew by 4.7 and 4.3 percent respectively, less than half the job growth nationally.

“The upstate economy has been growing more slowly than other parts of New York State, but it’s not appreciably worse than other states that have long been reliant on manufacturing,” said James Parrott, deputy director and chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, a labor-supported think tank.

Upstate’s shrinking population helps explains its economic woes, said E.J. McMahon, research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative watchdog group.

Forty-one of the 50 counties north of the Lower Hudson Valley have lost population since the last census in 2010, and McMahon said the pace of out-migration has quickened as the decade has progressed. That’s cut into the customer base that local businesses rely on.

“If there’s no population growth, it becomes a downward spiral,” he said.

Most of the employment growth upstate involved jobs in lower paying sectors, according to an analysis of data showing changes between the second quarters of 2010 and 2016 done with the assistance of the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Employers in low-wage sectors, including retail and restaurants and bars, added nearly 42,000 jobs, accounting for the lion’s share of the 47,500 net new jobs added in upstate during the Cuomo era.

Net growth in middle-income jobs has been flat. Gains in sectors that pay high wages, primarily involving businesses located in the Capital region, have been largely offset by job losses in Central New York and the Southern Tier.

“The economy in the last decade has tended to create low-wage jobs,” Parrott said. “What’s missing upstate is growth in middle- and high-wage jobs – professional services, manufacturing and government.

“Professional services has been growing, manufacturing hasn’t been growing enough, and together, the growth has not been enough to offset the steep decline in local and state government jobs.”

How does Cuomo’s track record compare with previous governors?

You have to go back to Gov. George Pataki’s tenure, from 1994 to 2000, to find find another six years of sustained economic growth uninterrupted by recession.

Job growth statewide, and downstate, was similar under each governor. But, despite Cuomo’s focus on upstate, job growth there was around twice as high under Pataki as during his tenure, 6.6 percent compared with 2.7 percent.

LeRoy, of Good Jobs First, said upstate’s tepid job growth is reason for pause.

“Ultimately, an economic development strategy has to prove itself on outcomes, and if your outcomes are lagging behind 46 states, you should be looking for Plan B,” he said.

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