In the 1990s there was an improving statistic that was as central to New York City’s turnaround as the decrease in the crime rate: the increase in mean distance between failures (MDBF) on the New York City subway. This figure, which measures how long the average subway car goes before it breaks down in service, is considered a key measure of the overall health of a railroad.
In any statistic there are random variations, in part due to temporary unusual conditions. That’s why a one-month increase or decrease in the crime rate, compared with a year earlier, or a one-year increase or decrease in school test scores, doesn’t really mean much. Once a trend is really established, however, it ought to be news. Which is why I was shocked to find, in the MTA Board materials, that MDBF has been falling for three years, not on a one-month basis but on a 12 month moving average basis. The decrease is now significant enough to affect service as people experience it, and may mark the start of a significant downward spiral for the system.
In my prior post I noted that the labor force of New York City, which had been soaring for years due to an influx of job-seeking young adults from around the country and around the world, suddenly fell from May 2015 to May 2016.
I also noted that as I wrote reports on metro area economies and commercial real estate markets over the past few months I found the same trend – labor force growth slowdowns or outright declines – elsewhere.
To try to figure out what was going on, I downloaded a quick table of the change in the metro area labor force from May 2014 to May 2015 and from May 2015 to May 2016 for metro areas around the country. The data shows growth slowdowns and in some cases outright declines for some of the economically strongest – and most expensive – metro areas in the country. And faster labor force growth, or in one case a shift from negative to positive, in some places that are cheap, even those that have had weak economies over the past decade.
I have long wondered if and when New York’s young workers, tired of low wages (or permanent freelancing or “internships”), squeezed by rising rents into living more than one to an apartment or even a room, faced with higher taxes that contribute to those rents, facing squeezes on the subway and diminished public services, would decide they have had enough. And realize there will be no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow like the ones prior generations received. No rent regulated or Mitchell Lama apartment, no owner-occupied unit purchased outside a housing bubble or at an “insider” price in a conversion, no stable job with benefits, no improving schools. Just higher taxes and deteriorating services to pay for those dead and gone or retired to Florida.
I have wondered if, at some point, the incredible inflow of hundreds of thousands of young workers to New York City that I chronicled here
The U.S. Census Bureau has released its “individual unit” state and local government pension fund data for FY 2014 and FY 2015, and based on past practice I probably would have used it to update my databases, produce a bunch of charts, and write a post or two. But comparing these years with the years preceding, it seems that the data has been trashed. This is something I feared after union-backed Comptroller Stringer’s election, reformed sinner actuary Robert North’s departure, and the imposition of somewhat stricter reporting requirements by the Government Accounting Standards Board, which show more clearly just how underfunded public employee pension funds are.
The new problem is in the Census Bureau data for the NYC Teachers Retirement System, joining the problem I had already found in data for the NYC police retirement system. I learned in government to never assume a conspiracy when a foul up is an equally credible explanation. Whatever the cause, however, if a fix is to be made the Census Bureau nonetheless will not be updating the 2014 and 2015 public employee data until the 2016 data is released next year. So I’ll probably wait to write about NY and NJ public employee pensions again until then.
That’s what lobbyists for the telecommunication companies promised in the mid-1990s, in the run up to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. What the industry’s lobbyists were trying to beat back was municipally owned telecommunications utilities, which are far more common in electric, gas, and even cable television than those living in urban New York might expect. State- and local government- owned electric and gas utilities employed 88,343 full time equivalent workers in the U.S. in FY 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Excluding water and sewer utilities, private utilities employed 500,000 people in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The telecom companies got their way. There would be no equivalent of the federal government’s rural electrification program for high speed internet. So 20 years latter did the industry keep its promises, or was the general public bamboozled by lobbyists and campaign cash?
Who will you be voting against this November? That’s really what it comes down to, doesn’t it? The fact is, however, that this poor choice has been a long time coming. All you have to do is look down a level, or two levels, or three levels in politics to see that there is no there there, and the rot has now reached the top of the ticket. You see the same rot at the state and local level, in business, in the non-profit sector. It is the rot of a self-serving generation or two, now running the show in its own interest. And the United States is facing a Presidential campaign that will likely be a rehash of the social issues of Generation Greed’s youth, rather than an honest discussion of the diminished realities it is leaving to those coming after. In public policy, in the economy, even in many families. Scapegoating is likely to be the only discussion of this reality anyone hears about. The candidates will likely prefer to talk about something, anything else otherwise.
For decades my rule of thumb has been don’t vote for any Republicans at the federal level, on generational equity grounds, as since 1980 the Republican Party has been waging a financial war on everyone born after 1957. Don’t vote for any Democrats at the local level, because they are controlled by the producers of public services – the public employee unions and contractors – whom they have continually enriched at the expense of increasingly less well off consumers of public services. And don’t vote any incumbents of either party holding office in the State of New York, which is the worst of the worst. Is there any reason to change?
From FY 2002, the last NYC budget before Mike Bloomberg became Mayor, to FY 2014, the last budget of his Mayoralty, New York City’s public school expenditures per student increased by 38.4% in real dollars (adjusted for inflation and for relative private sector wages that year). That is a huge increase in spending on the most expensive public service there is, during a decade when the pay of most private sector workers fell behind inflation. The U.S. average gain in public school spending per student was 3.8%. During the Bloomberg years NYC’s spending on instructional (mostly teachers) compensation per student increased 49.3%, including a 22.4% increase in wages and salaries and 125.0% (more than doubling) on benefits, including pensions. The U.S. average gains were 6.3% for total compensation and 43.9% for benefits, with a 2.4% decrease in instructional wages and salaries per student.
And yet at the end of this period, during the 2013 campaign for Mayor, every candidate but one said either that the schools were no better, or perhaps worse, than they had been before “Education Mayor” Bloomberg and the shift to Mayoral control. Most so-called education advocates agreed. The United Federation of Teachers, which funds many of those advocates, demanded even more money for its members, in exchange for less time spent working with students, and lower expectations as to their level of effort. And got it. And yet there is still extensive resentment, by many of those speaking for those working in education in NYC, toward the people and children of the city. A feeling that they are still being treated unfairly and deserve even more. But is that true? And what was actually received in exchange for all that additional money?