NYC Reaches Record Low Unemployment Rate, But Many Still Struggle

Victoria Merlino

Queens Daily Eagle

New York City recorded an all-time low unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, according to the newly released August employment report by the New York State Department of Labor. But hundreds of thousands of residents continue to struggle to pay rent or earn a living wage.

In Queens, the August unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, the state reported. That’s the lowest level of unemployment among the five boroughs.

Manhattan recorded an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, while Staten and Island and Brooklyn both recorded an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent. The Bronx had an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent.

A team of construction workers repair a bridge in Sunnyside. Photo courtesy of MTA.

A team of construction workers repair a bridge in Sunnyside. Photo courtesy of MTA.

The citywide rate is the lowest level of unemployment the city has seen since reporting began in 1976, according to New York City Economic Development Corporation, which analyzed the data.

“Today, we can stand proud of attaining the lowest recorded unemployment rate since 1976,” said Queens Council Member Paul Vallone, who chair the council’s Committee on Economic Development.

New York City added 6,100 private sector jobs in August, with 3,200 jobs added in the combined sectors of Education and Health Services. The Information sector also added 2,300 jobs.

The decreasing unemployment rate indicates continued growth citywide, the EDC said.

In 2016, the city’s monthly unemployment rate averaged 5.5 percent for the year. In 2015, the average monthly unemployment rate hovered around 6 percent and in 2014 it was at about 6.5 percent, according to U.S. Census data.

In Queens, the numbers were slightly better than average. The borough had an average monthly unemployment rate of 5 percent in 2016, 5.5 percent in 2015 and 6.1 percent in 2014.

Despite the steadily improving economy, hundreds of thousands of Queens residents struggle to pay rent or earn a living wage.

In 2014, the Furman Center on Real Estate and Urban Policy reported that 55 percent of all New York City renter households were rent burdened, meaning that their housing costs equaled to at least 30 percent of their income. A 2015 study by the Citizens’ Budget Committee revealed that Queens had the highest proportion of rent-burdened tenants of any borough.

But many of the new jobs in Queens, even ones that pay more than the minimum wage of $13 per hour at companies employing 11 or more people, still do not pay enough to keep up with the region’s skyrocketing cost of living.

A 2015 report by the apartment-hunting website StreetEasy determined that New Yorkers have to earn at least $38.80 an hour to afford the city’s median rent of $2,690. In Queens, StreetEasy found that a person who foots the entire average rent bill would have to earn at least $29.67 an hour — more than double the current minimum wage.

For a person who gets paid $29.67 per hour for a standard 35-hour work week — seven hours a day plus one unpaid hour for lunch, a rarity in New York City — his or her annual salary would amount to slightly less than $54,000.

That salary is not too shabby in many parts of the country, but in the New York City metropolitan area, $54,000 does not even come close to a middle class income.

"While, by some measures, the Queen’s economy is performing well, it's important to recognize that too many working families of color and immigrants are still struggling,” Julissa Bisono, Lead Organizer at Make the Road NY told the Queens Daily Eagle in July. “Many members of our communities have to work two jobs to provide for their families and pay their rent at the beginning of each month.

“Worse yet, many had to move out of the neighborhood because they can no longer afford the rent hikes,” Bisono continued. “We are committed to working as hard as ever to organize our members to fight for affordable housing and their rights as workers."