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Summer 2002
   
City Journal's Quality-of-Life Index
E. J. McMahon

With just a couple of exceptions, the statistical trends shown on these pages reflect a decade of extraordinary improvement in New York City’s quality of life. Our charts, which span the decade from 1991 to 2001, make clear the extremity of the city’s crisis in the Dinkins era and quantify the magnitude of the Giuliani administration’s epochal achievement in saving the city. They are also a worthy set of basic performance benchmarks for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In our twice-yearly updates of these charts, we will be measuring how well the new mayor succeeds in improving the fortunes of the city he inherited from his predecessor.

By any standard, the improvements over the last decade were impressive in several key respects:

  • Private-sector employment was up a net 356,000 jobs—even after the loss of more than 100,000 jobs in the wake of the World Trade Center attack.
  • The number of welfare recipients dropped by nearly 50 percent; in fact, the 2001 total is a 36-year low.
  • Major felony complaints dropped by more than 60 percent.
  • The tax burden, relative to personal income, was 11 percent lighter, and the top city income-tax rate was 20 percent lower.

Not surprisingly, New Yorkers also felt a lot better about the city at the end of this period than at the beginning, according to the New York Times’s periodic polls. Back in 1991—when the city was well into its Dinkins-era downward spiral—a disturbing 60 percent of city residents indicated they’d prefer to be living somewhere else in four years. A similar number thought New York would become a worse place to live, while only 19 percent thought it would get better over the long term.

By the summer of 2001, as the chart shows, those numbers had reversed themselves. And in the wave of civic pride that followed 9/11, New Yorkers’ attitudes toward their city grew even more positive.

But the trends weren’t all positive.

  • The personal income-tax rate rose in 2002—the first such tax increase in eleven years—thanks to the lame-duck City Council’s inaction last December on Mayor Giuliani’s request to make the city’s last round of tax cuts permanent. Even with the cuts, the tax rate remained higher than in 1989, Ed Koch’s last year as mayor.
  • While fewer New Yorkers work directly for government, the number of largely taxpayer-funded jobs in social services and health care has continued to grow.
  • And while more high school graduates are taking more challenging regents exams, the overall four-year completion rate remains mired around the 50 percent mark. Thirty percent don’t graduate by age 21.

As Giuliani’s successor, Bloomberg has to keep the positive trends of the past decade on the right track—and get the negative indicators moving in the right direction too, as he may already have started to do with his school governance reform victory.

We’ll be watching.

 

 

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City Residents' Attitudes and Outlooks.

City Residents' Attitudes and Outlooks.

Education Indicators.

Employment.

Crime.

Welfare Rolls.

 
The numbers in this first  installment of a new twice-yearly feature show how dramatically the city’s fortunes have improved by most measures.
City Journal Summer 2002.
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The Empire Center for New York State Policy is an Albany-based center focusing on public policy in New York State.


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