Michael Bloomberg’s first year as mayor of New York City produced decidedly mixed results, measured against the long-term statistical trends.

First, the good news from City Journal’s quality-of-life index:

Felony complaints fell in 2002 for a 12th consecutive year, according to preliminary NYPD data. By this measure crime in New York is occurring at considerably less than half the level of a decade ago — and less than one-third of the 1981 peak.

Nearly 72,000 more New Yorkers left the welfare rolls. After reaching 11 million in 1995, the number of welfare recipients in the city by the summer of 2002 had tumbled to just over 425,000 people — fewest since the dawn of the Great Society era in the mid-1960s.

The continued drop in crime and welfare dependency builds on the signature achievements of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — and Bloomberg clearly deserves credit, at the very least, for not messing with success in these areas.

Gotham’s fiscal and economic picture last year was not nearly as bright. True, as the “Taxes” clart shows, city taxes relative to personal income fell in Fiscal 2002, which ended June 30. But this drop did not reflect the impact of significant tax increases initiated by Bloomberg later in the year, starting with a record 18.5 percent property-tax hike. As a result, the city tax burden is rocketing back toward levels last seen in the mid1990s.

Those higher taxes will fall heavily on a city economy already severely weakened by the recession, stock-market slump and terrorist attacks of the last two years. Private-sector employment in New York declined by 120,000 jobs in 2002 — in percentage terms, the fourth biggest loss in the last half century.

While the number of private jobs is still 11 percent above the woeful benchmark of the Dinkins era, it is well below the peak of just a few years ago. Total government employment remained stable last year, despite Bloomberg’s modest trimming of the city payroll. Private health and social-services, largely non-profit and heavily dependent on government subsidies, constituted the only significant growth sector of the New York economy in 2002. Overall employment declined by 119,000 jobs to a total of 3.57 million.

New Yorkers appear to be skeptical of Bloomberg’s claims that higher taxes won’t hurt the economy, as reflected in the latest poll of city residents’ attitudes by The New York Times. By June 2003, 42 percent of New Yorkers said they hoped to be living somewhere else in four years, and fully one-third expected life in the city to be “worse” in the long term. While not nearly as bad as the most pessimistic public opinion surveys of the Dinkins era, these numbers indicated a marked erosion of confidence in the city’s future compared with Times poll data for mid- and late 2001.

As for education — Bloomberg’s self-proclaimed highest priority — the latest statistics provide further evidence that the link between financial inputs and academic outcomes remains tenuous. More city high school graduates are taking Regents exams, as the state requires (but with the passing grade lowered from 65 to 55 during the late 1990s). However, despite a massive infusion of new city school spending during this period, the number of students graduating within four years hasn’t unproved at all.

Government policies often have lagging effects, and one could fairly argue that the trend lines for 2002 — positive and negative — reflect the momentum of forces set in motion before Bloomberg took office. As time goes on, however, these indicators will increasingly come to reflect the mayor’s own performance.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

You may also like

NYC’s finances look flush — but Eric Adams’ budget carries many real risks

A few months into its third fiscal year since the pandemic’s start, New York City’s finances have never looked so flush — and so precarious. Read More

Defuse this city pension bomb

Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio presented a fiscal 2018 Executive Budget that called for pension contributions totaling $9.6 billion — another all-time high. Yet city pension plans remain significantly underfunded even by lenient government accounting standards, posing a big risk to New York’s fiscal future. Read More

Cuomo’s ‘affordable housing’ fix: neither affordable, nor a fix

For most of the past year and a half, Gov. Cuomo has sought to make the 421-a affordable housing program both less effective and more wasteful, by mandating the use of higher-priced unionized construction workers on 421-a projects. Read More

NY’s disability pension gambit

New York City’s pension costs will reach nearly $8.8 billion in the coming 2016 fiscal year — more than double the 2006 level and nearly eight times the 2001 amount. Yet now, with a week to go in the state legislative session, Albany is poised to drive those costs even higher. Read More

Gotham nightmare: The day NYC nearly went bottom up

In many respects, New York City looks economically and fiscally as strong as it’s ever been. But it’s still worth recalling that, 40 years ago this week, things were very different. Read More

Paying for retirees’ health bills, smartly

City workers who qualify for pensions are also eligible for lifetime health insurance coverage — a retirement benefit that has almost disappeared in the private sector. The estimated value of retiree health benefits promised to current and future city government pensioners is now roughly $90 billion, tipping the city’s overall financial balance sheet well into the red. Read More

Read the fine print behind the UFT contract deal

Mayor Bill de Blasio's 9-year contract agreement with the United Federation of Teachers, including a pair of 4 percent base-salary increases retroactive to the fall of 2008, will cost so much that he wants to defer some of the expense all the way out to the end of the decade. Read More

Soaking the rich is a shaky strategy

High-income New Yorkers are probably the least stable, consistent and reliable segment of the city's income tax base. According to state tax data, there were 49,000 city households with adjusted gross income of more than $500,000 as of 2007. They earned $135 billion that year. Read More