Mayor de Blasio announces the new sick-leave legislation on January 17.

Photo by: Mayor’s office

Mayor de Blasio announces the new sick-leave legislation on January 17.

Last week, Mayor De Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced a new bill that would expand the paid sick-leave that the Council mandated last year—extending it to firms with as few of five workers, eliminating carve-outs in the original law and dropping delays built into the 2013 measure.

In policy discussions about fighting poverty and inequality during the Bloomberg years, “innovation” became the most sought after credential. But there is absolutely nothing innovative about paid sick leave, which most workers have enjoyed for their entire working life. And that’s the great thing about it.

According to the most recent report on its website, Mayor Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity in fiscal 2012 ran an impressive array of small-scale programs that, added up, helped 45,367 people. Two other programs grouped under the CEO umbrella—tax credits—benefitted 25,000 households. (A separate tax prep program helped roughly 100,000 households file their returns, but didn’t necessarily confer any benefits on them.)

But there are 1.7 million poor people and 600,000 poor households in New York City. De Blasio’s change to the sick-leave law will benefit some 500,000 people. Not all of those beneficiaries will be poor, and sick leave isn’t going to defeat poverty, but you get the drift—this move is going to impact a lot more people a lot faster than any economic innovation put forward by the Bloomberg team.

The problem isn’t innovation itself; we sometimes need new ideas, and CEO had plenty of good ones. But it’s as dangerous to be blind to the success of past programs as it is to be ignorant of their failings. When innovation requires a false premise of failure, or distracts from addressing well-known systemic issues or comes at such small scale as not to make a difference, it can undermine genuine efforts to help.

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