Upstate left behind in NY job gains

| Press & Sun-Bulletin

While New York state recently touted job growth in 83 of the 96 months Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been in office, the numbers in Elmira, Binghamton and several other upstate cities paint a starkly contrasting picture. In Elmira, job losses have been recorded in 59 of the months since Cuomo was first inaugurated as governor in 2010. The numbers in Binghamton are only slightly better, with 57 months of employment declines during Cuomo’s tenure. While the Labor Department boasts that the state labor force grew to a record 9.8 million through Cuomo’s tenure, the numbers went in the exact opposite direction in Binghamton and Elmira, declining over the same time period.

Elmira’s labor force dwindled by 13 percent to 35,200. Binghamton lost 11 percent of its working population, dropping to 108,100.

The labor force declines have put a damper on economic growth in both regions. As the economies in the Southern Tier finally begin their slow ascent, companies are desperate to fill hundreds of job openings created over the past two years. Now, they have a far smaller crop of employees to harvest.

Statewide, outside New York City, the labor force has remained relatively flat, at about 5.6 million.

“The economic recovery has been far from ‘even’ across New York,” said E.J McMahon, from the conservative-leaning, Albany-based Empire Center, in a recent employment analysis. “In fact, the last eight years have seen a sharp and growing economic divide between upstate and downstate.”

New York’s total employment has grown by 8 percent since the start of Cuomo’s initial term to a record total of nearly 9.4 million. By comparison, the nationwide job number grew by 14 percent over the same period. Meanwhile, Elmira’s employment total has dropped by 9 percent, from 37,200 to 33,900, and Binghamton’s employment numbers have dropped by 7 percent to 104,100 from 111,900.

Indeed, overall state employment is on the rise, but much of the state’s overall job growth can be attributed to a business boom in New York City, where employment numbers have grown by 464,000, 11 percent, since the beginning of Cuomo’s tenure.

It should be noted, said Alex Camarda, senior policy analyst with Reinvent Albany, that the disparity in job growth between upstate and downstate began well before the Cuomo administration, caused by the globalization and the decline of manufacturing.

“These are standing intractable issues that are very hard to address,” Camarda said.

But even given the the displacement that has been occurring upstate, the continued decline leads policy analysts to question the effectiveness of the Cuomo administration’s economic development strategies.

Six of the 13 New York metropolitan areas recorded a loss in the number of employed during the length of the Cuomo administration. Subtract Albany, Westchester, New York City and Nassau-Suffolk from the job total, and the balance of the state gained barely 50,000 jobs over the past eight years.

“New York state’s labor market continued to expand in December 2018 as it reached a new, all-time high private-sector job count, while the statewide unemployment rate remained at its lowest level on record and the labor force reached a new high for the state as well,” said Bohdan M. Wynnyk, director of the New York State Department of Labor’s Division of Research and Statistics, in a prepared statement accompanying the statistical release.

Lower jobless percentages are caused not by a rise in employment in many upstate New York metropolitan regions, but by a drastic decline in the upstate labor force as people fled the state over the past eight years looking for opportunities in regions with more economic vitality.

“In downstate labor markets, the unemployment rate dropped even while the labor force was expanding, thanks to an increase in resident employment,” McMahon said. “Upstate, the unemployment rate has dropped because there are fewer people looking for work, not because more are working. In fact, resident employment upstate is lower than it was when Cuomo took office.”

Even in Ithaca, where the unemployment rate is at a near record low of 3 percent, the labor force has declined by 4,200 to 52,600, while the number employed increased by 2,600 to 51,000. The imbalance accounted to a large share of the decline in the unemployment rate.

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