Fact Checking The State Of The City

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Mayor Bloomberg delivers his State of the City address.

Photo by: City Hall

Mayor Bloomberg delivers his State of the City address.

Mayor Bloomberg’s state of the city speech on Wednesday offered inspiring words about guns and immigrants and a raft of new policy ideas. But as might be expected in a mayor’s 10th such address, much of the talk was about what has been accomplished so far. Here are some details on the mayor’s talking points:

  • “Jobs bring hope and opportunity, independence and security, and creating them is our job number one. Now, too many New Yorkers are still struggling to find work and our unemployment rate is still too high, but over the past year, we have added 51,000 private sector jobs – in industries with average salaries between $35,000 and $92,000.”

    Between November 2009 and November 2010 (the latest month for which detailed statistics are available), the city’s unemployment rate dipped from 10.5 to 9.1 percent and the labor force remained roughly constant, meaning the decrease in the unemployment rate can be attributed to people getting jobs, not giving up looking for them. The city is still down about 100,000 jobs from the local labor market peak of March 2008, when unemployment was at 4.6 percent. While enjoying a lower rate than the national economy, the city still has the highest unemployment of any metro area in the state.

  • “We kept the welfare rolls at historic lows.”

    About 350,000 people are on welfare in the city today–far lower than the million-plus that received cash assistance in 1995–and the city’s Human Resources Administration points with pride to the fact that the rolls have kept dropping or stayed low even as local unemployment soared. HRA did place tens of thousands of welfare applicants in jobs last year. But the agency also increasingly turned welfare applicants down.

    The mayor did not mention the word “poverty” in his speech. Four years earlier, in his 2006 State of the City address, the mayor said he was “committing to a major reduction in the number of children, women and men who live in poverty in this City over the next four years.” The poverty rate dropped from 19 percent in 2005 to 17.6 percent in 2008, but in 2009 crept back up to 19 percent.

  • “We cut fire deaths to their lowest level since before 1919.”

    The decline in fire deaths, which tracks a national trend, is pretty impressive. Just since 1993, the number of civilian fire fatalities in the five boroughs slid from 161 to around 60 last year.

  • “We raised graduation rates again – they’re up 27 percent over the past four years, compared to just three percent in the rest of the state. And that means 15,000 students would not have finished high school if we didn’t do it.”

    Over the mayor’s entire tenure, the increase is even higher, with the graduation rate leaping 33 percent since 2001. And more students are earning Regents diplomas–a good thing, too, since the local diplomas that about 15 percent of students earn will be phased out soon. Graduation rates have increased among all demographic groups, but substantial achievement gaps remain. Whites and Asians in the class of 2005 graduated at rates of 74 and 77 percent, respectively. Blacks and Hispanics graduated at rates of 52 and 54 percent.

  • “In Queens, shovels will go into the ground at Hunters Point South, where we’ll begin to transform long vacant land into a new middle-class development fueled by $2 billion in private investments that will create 4,600 jobs.”

    Sixty percent of the 5,000 apartments at Hunter’s Point South are supposed to be affordable; the rest are market rate. Two-thirds of the affordable housing being constructed there will be reserved for people making between 81 percent and 165 percent of the area median income, or AMI. For a family of four that income range translates to $63,000 to $130,000. One-third of the affordable housing will be available to families making less than 80 percent of the AMI, or $63,000.

  • “At Willets Point, once the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘valley of ashes,’ we’ll begin building roadways and waterlines that will give rise to whole new neighborhoods with good jobs and affordable housing.”

    Willets Point isn’t an ash pile these days–it’s a bustling, if ugly and polluted, working neighborhood with 1,700 blue-collar jobs. The city says its plan for a hotel, convention center and mixed-income housing will create 5,300 permanent jobs.

  • “Of course, the biggest single step we can take to promote innovation in New York City, and across this country, is to fix our broken immigration system.”

    Chung-Wha Hong, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, in a statement praised the mayor for once again articulating his support for immigrants. But she added: “At the same time that we are buoyed by his comments on immigration reform, we are also concerned that immigrant students still learning English have been left out of the graduation-rate gains he cited in his speech. Students still learning English have significantly lower graduation rates, and we need to see the Mayor make a real commitment to improving outcomes for these students, who otherwise represent an enormous loss of economic potential that our city cannot afford.”

  • “In addition, a new loan program will offer minority- and women-owned businesses access to loans covering their upfront costs when doing business with the City. That’s just one way we’re going to strengthen efforts that, in just four years time, have nearly tripled the value of City contracts going to MWBE firms. New business assistance programs will help certified MWBE firms and small businesses compete for City jobs.”

    City Comptroller John Liu says this claim about the increase of MWBE contracting “cannot be substantiated.”Liu’s office has recently reported on several city agencies that did not comply with MWBE contracting rules.

  • “Now I’ve always believed City workers deserve a safe and secure retirement, but right now, they receive retirement benefits that are far more generous than those received by most workers in the private sector – and that provide for a much earlier retirement age. It would be great if we could continue to afford such generous benefits, but we can’t.”

    There’s no question that pension costs are swallowing an increasing share of the city’s budget, and this is only partly due to investment losses in the pension funds’ stock portfolio. But there is wide variation in how generous city pensions are. According to the 140,000 applications for 52,000 slots. Last year federal funding shrank and state support dried up; Bloomberg also threatened to cut tcity funding during the annual budget dance, but ended up inserting more money to offset some of the state’s retrenchment.

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