screen-shot-2016-09-02-at-12-59-55-pm-150x150-5019809Governor Cuomo frequently asserts that “the arrows are pointing in the right direction” for the upstate New York economy, thanks to state policy changes under his leadership.

But approaching the sixth Labor Day of Cuomo’s tenure, the latest job statistics continued to tell a different, more complicated story. For example, as reported in recent posts on this site:

  • As of July, based on a year-to-year comparison of state Labor Department data, virtually all of the private job growth in New York had been downstate, mainly in New York City. Syracuse (-0.3 percent) and Albany-Schenectady-Troy (-0.5 percent) both lost jobs on a year-to-year basis, while gains were small in Buffalo-Niagara Falls (+0.9 percent) and Rochester (+0.2 percent).  The Southern Tier kept slowly sinking, with both Binghamton and Elmira registering another month of small private job declines.
  • “In upstate New York, economic growth has generally been modest, with job growth running well below the national pace,” William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, noted at a regional economic briefing last month. New York Fed researchers said upstate was still experiencing weak growth in “middle-wage” jobs, reflected by a “limited bounce back in Education and Construction jobs coupled with ongoing declines in Administrative Support and Production jobs.” The two-year trend nationally, and even more so downstate, has included a strong increase in those categories.
  • State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a report confirming the generally sluggish upstate trend. Among other things, the report pointed out that upstate has yet to regain all of the jobs lost in the Great Recession. The report also included this informative chart showing net average jobs gains upstate and downstate on annual basis since 2010.
  • The unemployment rate in upstate New York has been sinking—a trend frequently touted by the governor— mainly because the workforce is shrinking. For example, if the Southern Tier labor force was still at its May 2010 level of 326,800 people available and looking for work, the region’s May 2016 employment level would translate into an unemployment rate of 13 percent.

As the Fed’s Dudley pointed out, upstate’s sluggish economic performance “isn’t new, as upstate New York has historically tended to grow much more slowly than the nation.” Regional trends are affected by a lot of macro-economic factors beyond the control of any governor. And on the positive side, Cuomo deserves a lot of credit for some important pro-growth initiatives, especially his property tax capcorporate tax rate cuts and (unfinished) reform of the state estate tax.

But taxes aren’t the only factor affecting New York’s attractiveness as a place to create jobs and do business. Cuomo has also undermined upstate recovery prospects with his ban on shale gas “fracking,” his denial of a permit for a desperately needed natural gas pipeline across the Southern Tier, his (partially successful) advocacy of a $15 minimum wage and his failure to reform an increasingly costly workers’ compensation insurance system, among other policies.

His prescription for an upstate recovery relies heavily on state-subsidized, centrally controlled mega-initiatives modeled on the “Buffalo Billion”—which has sparked a federal investigation.

The bottom line: at best, taking together modest upward trends in some metro areas with sharp declines in others, the upstate arrow is pointing sideways.


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

NY Post-Pandemic Employment Tide Stopped Rising At Year’s End

New York's post-pandemic employment recovery came to a halt and moved into reverse in December, according to the state's for the final month of COVID-wracked 2020. Private payroll employment in December was 966,000 jobs below the level of the previous Read More

State Tax Receipts Strong Again in November, But Jobs Recovery Remains Slow

New York State's tax receipts in November were a whopping $800 million above Governor Cuomo's projections for the month—further evidence that the current-year budget gap is probably much smaller than Cuomo has been claiming. Meanwhile, however, priva Read More

New York’s Jobs Recovery Chugged to a Near-Halt in October

After rising sharply once the economy began to reopen, private payroll growth in New York ominously ran out of steam in October, according to the state's monthly jobs report. Read More

Fewer Workers, Not More Jobs, Explains NY’s September Unemployment Rate Drop

New York State's unemployment rate has fallen sharply since the economically devastating pandemic lockdown last spring. But as state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli points out in  his latest economic report, the jobless rate doesn't tell the whole story. Read More

New York’s Private Jobs Rebound Still Trails Most of U.S.

In the seventh month of the coronavirus pandemic, private-sector employment in New York was still recovering more slowly than in other states from the after-effects of the broad spring shutdowns of normal business and social life, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Read More

Mixed September for NY: Job Recovery Sluggish, Tax Receipts Up

Continuing a trend from mid-summer, New York's private jobs recovery slowed a little more in September—but state tax receipts came in a bit stronger than expected, according to two monthly reports released by the state late today. Read More

It’s Official: New York State’s Second Quarter Economic Crash Was the Worst on Record

Further evidence of the massive damage done to New York’s economy by the coronavirus pandemic shutdown has emerged in the latest gross domestic product (GDP) data from the federal Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Affairs. Read More

Sluggish Reopening: NY’s Private Job Count Down 1.1 Million From Pre-Pandemic Level

Six months into the novel coronavirus pandemic, New York State's private-sector employment recovery was the slowest in the 48 contiguous states—and getting slower. Read More


Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.


Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130


The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.