The Economist Notices the NYC Department of Corrections

Word of the meltdown of New York City’s jail system has crossed the Atlantic, and apparently somebody has given The Economist magazine the kind of information that, in general, no one is allowed to talk about here in “progressive” New York.

The title?  

Aggravated robbery

The jail on Rikers Island is both appalling and generously funded

It costs $438,000 to jail one person for one year there

Gee, I thought everyone was obliged to say the people of New York deserve nothing because they don’t pay enough money in taxes, and cheat public employees and contractors out of $billions?  And because New York doesn’t tax the rich.  Didn’t the city just agree to increase the Department of Correction budget and staffing levels in response to a crisis that department and its union created?

The misery at Rikers is not for lack of resources. The jail’s population fell by half between 2012 and 2020, yet its budget grew by 24%. It costs $438,000 to jail one person there for one year. Of this $379,216 goes to personnel costs; less than 5% goes to services like substance-abuse treatment. The average salary for guards, after five and half years on the job, is $92,073. In 2012, the ratio of inmates to officers in the city was 7:5. In 2020 it was 1.6 officers per inmate.

And yet, the island’s chief medical officer said he is seeing “a collapse in basic jail operations.”  On September 29th a federal judge issued an emergency order to safeguard inmates’ wellbeing.

To hear local politicians talk about it, the problem is the buildings located on Rikers Island are attacking people, and it’s the buildings that must be replaced.  At a cost of $8 billion, more 10 times as much per square foot at the cost of luxury condominiums, to benefit the construction unions and contractors.  The problem couldn’t be the inmates, or the guards and its union, or other parts of the public sector, could it? 

So why was someone willing to make a comparison between New York’s local corrections spending today and the past, and with other places?  Did the corrections officers’ union not give enough money to the right politicians?  Because here is what The Economist didn’t say:  the same excess of funding and staffing compared with other places, even adjusted for the cost of living here, may be found in just about every state and local government service in New York City.  Even those that are merely, intentionally, inadequate, or getting worse, not “appalling,” so the inadequacy could serve as the basis for a demand for more money.   Nowhere else in the U.S. is close:  not New Jersey, not Connecticut, not California, not Illinois, nowhere.  And unlike the Department of Corrections, at least for the moment, no politician or media source will talk about it.


Is the Department of Corrections that much different from the NYPD, which has 2.2 times more officers per 100,000 people than the U.S. average and more than almost any other city?

Plus a 20-and-out pension and a high level of disability fraud.

And yet you hear testimony every year at budget time that New Yorkers don’t deserve to be protected from crime, because there should be thousands more officers, or else.  It’s like the mafia demanding payoffs for protection.

Mayor DeBlasio, suddenly breaking political/union class Omerta, has blamed the deteriorating conditions at Rikers on the state judiciary, who in turn have blamed district attorneys and public defenders.  All are part of the “judicial and legal” function in Census Bureau government finances data.  So, is that function worse funded in New York compared with other places?

The answer is no.  For state and local government combined, New York’s state and local government judicial and legal expenditures per $1,000 of personal income are well above the national average and higher than most states.  That measurement adjusts for the higher cost of living/average wage here.  And yet somehow court cases take years instead of weeks, and that was true even before the pandemic.

These are all the types of services the New York Post is loath to criticize, but “progressives” might be willing to talk about.  A little.  Barely.  If only to “defund” some interest groups to get even more money for others, when money is scarce.  But what about the rest?

I showed how New York City public school spending per child has doubled, adjusted for inflation, over a couple of decades to double the national average – and far more than anywhere else but the rest of New York.

You could practically write the same Economist article on corrections about the NYC schools, due in large part to retroactive pension increases and out of classroom assignments.

The jail’s population fell by half between 2012 and 2020, yet its budget grew by 24%. It costs $438,000 to jail one person there for one year. Of this $379,216 goes to personnel costs; less than 5% goes to services like substance-abuse treatment.

School enrollment has been falling too, but the UFT cut a deal with President Governor DeBlasio for even more out of classroom assignments, and then demanded even more dues paying members during the pandemic.  Add in the cost of the retroactive 25/55 pension deal and other pension deals…

And the NYC schools cost $496,280 per 20 students in FY 2019, including $285,900 for teacher wages and benefits. 

In 2012, the ratio of inmates to officers in the city was 7:5. In 2020 it was 1.6 officers per inmate.

With the large Millennial generation exiting school and not yet producing large numbers of school-age children, but the UFT wanting even more dues paying members, NYC’s students per instructional employee fell from 10.6 in 1997 to 8.3 in 2007 and 7.3 in 2019.  One wonders how low it is now, despite the UFT providing no child care and limited education for a year and a half.  And yet they claim to owe us nothing because we have “cheated them out of $billions.”

The same claim was made about Medicaid by Local 1199 and the Greater New York Hospital Association.  Give us more, or we’ll let your baby die, the commercials said.  Not recently, when there has been some attempt to reign in their nation-leading cost, but back in the 1990s when they were at their peak of political power – and entitlement.

But as I showed here…

New York State’s “medical vendor payments” spending is much higher, per $1,000 of its residents’ personal income, than any other state.  New York’s total Medicaid spending per enrollee ranked eighth in the country in 2014 – the most recent data I could get. Much of this is concentrated in New York City.  

Public data on comparable Medicaid spending by state from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid disappeared after I had written about it for a decade or so.  But I was still able to get data on the soaring employment in New York City’s home health care industry, most of which is government-funded.  Read to the end of this post…

And you’ll find that New York City had 635 employed in three senior-related industries combined per 1,000 people ages 75 or older, well more than double the U.S. average of 303.  NYC was 8.3% below the U.S. average for Nursing and Residential Care, but double the U.S. average for Services for the Elderly and Disabled and about five times the U.S. average for Home Health Care.  The portion of New York State outside New York City was also above average at 344, as was California (411), Connecticut (361), and Massachusetts (456).  But none were close to New York City.  New Jersey was below average at 272.

Employment has soared so much in the home health care industry that it is likely billing New York State’s Medicaid industry for workers and seniors who don’t exist.

Extrapolating the trend forward, the Home Health Care industry will employ 10 million people in New York City in 2035 – the entire population of the city plus those commuting in – and 8.1 billion in 2055 – the entire population of planet earth.

The operating costs of the New York City subway are not that out of line, though the MTA covers them up by classifying $1 billion dollars per year as “reimbursable” by the capital plan and borrowing for them. 

But the operating cost of MTA buses, the commuter railroads, and the PATH system are out of line.  As is, particularly, the cost construction and ongoing replacement and rehabilitation under the MTA capital plan.  Perhaps because these are blue collar workers, the NY Times was willing to criticize this – once, several years ago.

What the media is willing to repeat over and over is that we deserve deteriorating public services and unmet needs because we don’t pay enough in taxes, and public employees and contractors aren’t paid enough.  Even though our tax burden is by far the highest and keeps going up (even as the tax burden goes down in places where it was low to being with).

And the mean earnings (wages, salaries and benefits, particularly for the early-retired) of state and local government workers in Downstate New York had, as of 2019 (as good as it gets for the NYC economy), had soared to a point higher than the mean earnings for the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sector, let alone the rest of the private sector.

The average (mean) earnings (cash plus employer benefits) those working in the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sectors (including both employees and the self-employed) was $122,813 that year. The rest of the private sector averaged $81,575.  The mean earnings for state and local government workers Downstate, meanwhile, was $124,095.  That is not only 52.1% higher than the mean for the rest of the private sector, including all the one-percenters outside finance, a record high difference.  But also – for the first time – more than the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sectors.

So think about it.  When the NYC Department of Corrections and its unions decided to provide “appalling” public services, make life hell for is newbie workers, and demand even more money using the bad job they were doing as evidence that it was needed, weren’t they just following the same playbook that all the public unions and contractors have followed for decades?  By engaging in blackmail, aren’t they just doing what the rich and Wall Street have done at the federal level for decades – print money and give it to us or else?   Are the NYC corrections officers the only interest group that has committed “aggravated robbery” at the expense of the serfs and later-born generations?  It think not.

But in the end, most of it stays under Omerta.  Can’t have people losing faith in institutions, government, the markets, etc.  Almost all of this is hushed up, and those who talk about this sort of thing are treated like vaccine deniers and conspiracy theorists.  

In any event, the Census Bureau once produced a series of files called DAC-REX, with all the data it collects on state and local government finances – by state – for all the years back to 1972.  These files allowed double comparisons of state and local government fiscal priorities – across states/vs. the national average, and over time.  But the Bureau stopped updating these files after FY 2008.  

Not willing to let it go at that, I have periodically, painstakingly updated these files – for all 50 states and separately for the City of New York – myself several times.  You see those line charts in the posts, with revenues, expenditures or debts per $1,000 of personal income?  Only I can make them, unfortunately.  Apparently no one else cares, except those who prefer that people not know.

I’m working on an additional update through FY 2019 right now, evenings and weekends.  Just because if I don’t do it, no one else will.  

If you want to see what no one is apparently allowed to, through FY 2017, could can read all about it and get all the spreadsheets, tables and charts right here.

In the end its about values, with some people on in the inside and among the earlier born valuing themselves highly and valuing the rest and the later-born not at all.  That’s why what you see in the New York City Department of Corrections can also be seen elsewhere.  Until someone is willing to stand up and say so, the trend will continue to get worse.  Quietly arranging for things to get worse somewhat more slowly for most current and all future New Yorkers, and then presenting yourself as a champion of the people, will not alter the course of events.  A course of events the hackocracy is sure to continue for another four or five years, unless the final collapse occurs first.

Just remember – we have paid, and paid, and paid.  This isn’t Florida.  We have given the “heroes” all the respect and consideration they deserve, and then some.  And in return, they have acted in a way that puts them out of solidarity with all the other workers of New York, including their own later-hired members.