Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1425 Tue, 21 Jan 2020 17:05:09 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) With Cuomo Promising Gig Economy Regulations, New York Leaders Consider Pros and Cons of California Model https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9065-cuomo-promising-gig-economy-regulations-new-york-leaders-consider-california-model https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9065-cuomo-promising-gig-economy-regulations-new-york-leaders-consider-california-model gocvuomo center

(photo: Don Pollard/Office of the Governor)


This year, more than 40% of New Yorkers will be employed in the so-called gig economy, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his State of the State speech earlier this month. It was an acknowledgement that the nature of work is changing, or rather has changed, and also a concession that labor rules have not evolved to keep up. Gig economy workers lack the same benefits that full-time workers enjoy, which has helped billion-dollar companies make substantial profit on the backs of unprotected and often underpaid workers. And Cuomo said New York would no longer allow that to happen. 

“Large corporations have dominated and taken advantage of workers for too long,” said the governor, a third-term Democrat. “Today's economy works brilliantly for innovators, shareholders and billionaires, but it too often abuses workers. As FDR, Al Smith and Francis Perkins protected workers after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, we too must protect workers from today's threat, which is economic exploitation.”

He went on, getting at the heart of what he appears to be eyeing for new regulations: “Too many corporations are increasing their profits at the expense of the employee and the taxpayer, and that must end. A driver is not an independent contractor simply because she drives her own car on the job. A newspaper carrier is not an independent contractor because they ride their own bicycle. A domestic worker is not an independent contractor because she brings her own broom and mop to the job. It is exploitive, abusive, it's a scam, it's fraud. It must stop and it has to stop here and now!”

The governor’s words were encouraging news for state legislators, activists, and labor groups who have long sought to regulate the freelance and gig economy to protect workers. After California passed first-in-the-nation legislation that established a framework for doing that, New York may soon follow suite.

California’s Assembly Bill 5, or AB5 measure, uses an ABC Test to establish how a worker is classified, limiting the ability of companies to avoid paying benefits by claiming someone is an independent contractor rather than an employee. While Cuomo has not released the specifics of his proposals, some New York lawmakers intend to enact a similar measure having learned lessons from the successes, and failures, of the California model. 

There is of course opposition to these efforts from business groups and the companies that any potential bill would seek to regulate, and they have employed armies of lobbyists to represent their interests before the state. 

California isn’t the only model for gig economy legislation. New York City has already forged several other measures affecting the gig economy that could serve to inform the state’s efforts. The City Council passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act in 2017, to ensure that freelance workers are paid on time and to protect them from wage theft. In late 2018, the Council established the first-ever minimum wage for drivers that work for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. Just last week, a law went into effect that extends protections against workplace harassment and discrimination to freelancers and independent contractors. 

Broklyn City Council Member Brad Lander was the sponsor of all three city laws – he’s working on more legislation currently – and he welcomed the governor’s words on the need for new regulation. “Obviously, in the past, the governor embraced Uber and the gig economy and he has come to understand that it can be a site of real exploitation, and that new rules are needed,” Lander said in a phone interview. In 2017, Cuomo pushed through legislation that authorized ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to operate across the state.

The classification of workers, as Cuomo outlined in his State of the State, remains a state question. Lander and others are hoping New York creates its own ABC test for workers, which would have a broad effect across different gig economy segments.

“What I hope will be at the heart of New York state legislation is that there are a set of people for whom the terms and conditions of their employment are set by the platform or by the hiring party, and they really should have been treated as employees all along,” he said. “[California’s] law helps clarify that requirement and close the loop.”

Though Cuomo has not yet introduced any legislative proposals (he mentioned the need for gig economy regulation in his 2019 agenda but did not follow through), he appears more committed this year. And, there have already been attempts by Democratic state legislators.

State Senator Diane Savino, a Democrat from Staten Island, has been working on gig economy regulation for years and has been leading public hearings on the issue in recent months as chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Internet and Technology. Along with Bronx Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, she introduced a bill last year, the Dependent Worker Act, to reclassify certain gig economy workers and provide them with labor protections, including the ability to unionize and collectively bargain for benefits. But the bill was unpopular, both to business and labor groups. 

A subsequent bill introduced by Assemblymember Deborah Glick and State Senator Robert Jackson, both Manhattan Democrats, heeds more closely to California’s law, and would have established an ABC test for workers in New York. That too was unsuccessful, but Glick says she’ll pursue the bill again this year. She was encouraged by the governor’s speech.

“I'm glad that he made reference to the fact that there are companies that should live up to their responsibilities to treat the people working for them as employees and provide them with the appropriate benefits that reflect the dignity of their work,” Glick said in an interview. “And it certainly should not fall to government to pick up the slack while these companies are generating very large profits.”

Glick is aware of the challenges and has conceded that the bill may require exemptions. California’s law is currently going before the courts and major companies have promised to spend millions of dollars to defeat it in through a ballot referendum this year. There’s also been criticism from those the bill was supposed to benefit. It mandates that companies would need to hire a freelance writer who publishes more than 35 pieces of writing in their publication. Freelancers say that would effectively harm, rather than help them, by requiring them to work for more companies and publish more broadly. 

“I think Senator Jackson and I are confident that we will be able to make technical changes that will address concerns from specific industries and at the same time cover most employees who have, up until now, been very disadvantaged by being considered independent contractors,” Glick said. 

Since last year, Savino has similarly recalculated her effort and is hoping to recraft legislation and avoid the pitfalls of California’s law. “We have the benefit of having watched California go first,” she said. “What we have to figure out is how do we write a piece of legislation that creates clear rules for everybody, everyone understands it, maintains the flexibility that people seem to like, and doesn't ensnare people unnecessarily the way the California law did. So you don't wind up with 30 exemptions and multiple court cases.”

The legislators are speaking with stakeholders on all sides of the issue, including the companies that will be most affected by legislation and have been fighting against it. The Flexible Work for New York coalition, comprised of business groups, trade associations and several app-based services including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates, has pushed back against efforts to regulate the gig economy, arguing that it would reduce workers capacities to supplement their income and would also increase costs for consumers.

“Flexibility has allowed tens of thousands of New Yorkers to earn income around their own lives,” said Christina Fisher, spokesperson for Flexible Work for New York (FWNY), in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “These are single parents trying to juggle childcare, retirees trying to supplement their retirement income, and college students who need a way to earn money around their class schedules. As lawmakers explore ways to better protect workers, it’s vital they do so in a way that balances those protections with the flexibility that workers overwhelmingly value and need. Already, multiple industries in California – from freelance writers to truck drivers and more – have suffered the negative impacts of overly broad legislation that ignored the voices of workers, and we can’t let that happen here in New. York.”

An FWNY spokesperson put Gotham Gazette in touch with Mastro Young, 65, who has been driving for Uber in Albany for about two years. Young said he was concerned about how any new laws may affect his ability to earn extra income. The flexibility he has from working with Uber allows him more time with his family, he said, and as a veteran, the time to go to the doctor without having to request time off from an employer. “Financially, Uber helps me a whole lot, paying my bills and having a little extra money,” he said in a phone interview. “Without Uber, it  can be tiring, you know, trying to make ends meet.”

Young isn’t opposed entirely to new regulations that could potentially increase benefits for those who don’t work the equivalent of full-time hours, but he was adamant that the governor and Legislature shouldn’t take away the flexibility that drivers like him enjoy. “If I need money, if I know my bills are coming, I drive more at the end of the month so I can pay my bills,” he said. “If I want to take my wife on a vacation, I can up my hours, so I can do these things. So I'm just hoping that is not taken away from us.”

Overall, it’s not clear how gig economy workers are thinking about possible regulations that would drastically impact their lives.

Legislators seeking new regulations have powerful labor allies on their side. The New York Do It Right Employment Classification Test (DIRECT) coalition has been advocating for an ABC Test in state labor law, taking direct aim at app-based ride-hailing services, which currently help provide work to somewhere around 100,000 drivers, if not more, across the state on a somewhat consistent basis. The coalition’s members include the likes of labor heavyweight 32BJSEIU, immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, The Legal Aid Society and the New York Nail Salon Workers Association, among others. 

“I think It's important to recognize as we're talking about the issue of misclassification that this is not strictly an Uber problem,” said Brian Chen, staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, another coalition member. “It's not strictly a gig economy problem. This is a misclassification problem and misclassification extends to virtually every industry in New York, particularly those industries that are very low wage, often immigrant dominated where there is typically a lot of exploitation.”

Chen said his coalition is working with the National Writers Union and other writers groups to craft a carveout that would prevent what happened in California. 

“The ABC test is the gold standard that reaffirms the rights and protections of misclassified workers,” he added. “It holds employers accountable to their workers. And most importantly, it does not jettison any rights or protections that that people are entitled to under the law.”

While classification is a central issue, it’s by far not the only one that some advocates and experts want to see addressed this year.

Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for An Urban Future, a nonprofit thinktank, said the missing piece of the puzzle is a comprehensive system of universal, portable benefits for those workers who truly do count as independent contractors. “I think the opportunity for New York is to tackle an even greater challenge, which is how to provide financial security and other benefits to independent workers,” Dvorkin said. 

He pointed to the Black Car Fund as an existing model that could be emulated, or mandated, in other industries, emphasizing that any new legislation should “thread that needle” between protecting workers that are closer to employees as well as benefiting those who continue to want to work as truly independent contractors. “That's a two-pronged approach that would be much more powerful in total, and I think we've yet to see what that second prong would look like at the state level,” he said. 

In the absence of the universal provision of benefits like healthcare, Dvorkin said companies should be setting up benefits funds for independent contractors to give them access to affordable health care, workers compensation insurance and unemployment insurance. “I think there's a huge opportunity to set up a system where companies pay into a set of flexible benefits, portable benefits that's prorated to the amount of work that that any one person has performed for that company or on their platform. and the technology already exists to be able to do that,” he said. 

Savino admitted that portable benefits are  “not a foreign concept” for New York, pointing to other models including ones created by the Freelancers Union and Domestic Workers United for their members. But she said the focus first needs to be on creating a standardized classification system for those denied basic statutory rights such as workers compensation, unemployment insurance, human rights law protections, and the right to organize and collectively bargain.

NELP’s Chen echoed the sentiment. “I think our position is, let's start with the benefits that people are due under the labor laws already and that's minimum wage, anti discrimination, workers compensation, unemployment insurance.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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With Cuomo Promising Gig Economy Regulations, New York Leaders Consider Pros and Cons of California Model Mon, 20 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
First Mandated Survey of Small Businesses Identifies Problems But City Points to Existing Services https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8836-first-mandated-city-survey-of-small-businesses-identifies-problems https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8836-first-mandated-city-survey-of-small-businesses-identifies-problems bdb rec business

Mayor de Blasio & Council Member Cornegy stop at a small business (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


New York City’s small businesses need more employees but struggle with hiring, and lack the time and resources they need to find and train talent. Their operational costs continue to be a challenge, including the cost of rent, insurance, and utilities. They need more financial support for growth and more assistance to comply with government rules and regulations.

Those are just a few of the findings of a limited and first-of-its-kind survey conducted by the New York City Department of Small Business Services under new laws passed by the City Council in 2017.

As mandated by the law, the survey began in August 2018 and was ongoing when the initial results were published in June of this year (it has since concluded). It was required by a pair of bills, sponsored by City Council Member Robert Cornegy, which also require the city to create a “workforce development plan” based on the survey results.

A total of 543 business owners – out of more than 220,000 in the city – responded to the online survey, according to the 35-page report, outlining the issues they face in running and growing their enterprises. The responses came from across a range of businesses including food service establishments, professional and scientific businesses, construction trades, arts and entertainment, retail, and education, to name a few. About half the respondents were white, while African-American and Hispanic owners accounted for 20% and 15%, respectively.

The report comes as city government officials wrestle with how to help local small businesses amid a changing economy, sky-high costs, especially for rent, an increasing focus on vacant storefronts in the five boroughs, and debate over new mandates that some owners are opposing.

The report acknowledges early on that the sample “is not representative of the city’s business population” because of the relatively small number of responses – on key questions, there were fewer than 200 responses. Nonetheless, the report gets at some of the issues that businesses face in the city. About 42% of respondents said they did not have enough employees to run their business, and more than 60% said they suffered from a lack of tools to recruit employees and meet other pressing needs.

“There's no question that small businesses are facing growing challenges and this survey certainly echoes that,” said Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a nonpartisan policy group focused on economic opportunity, in a phone interview. Dvorkin said he was disappointed that the study did not contain more holistic data about the city’s small business landscape but did say it generally tracks with CUF’s research on the challenges faced by small businesses.

And he underscored the importance of understanding the problem. Small businesses, he said, “have consistently added jobs every single year since 2000. And as a result...very small businesses with fewer than 20 employees have added more net jobs every year than businesses with more than 500 employees have in New York City.”

About 40% of respondents to the survey said their top need was help in training new employees, while 33% said recruitment was their biggest challenge, and 27% pointed to general human resources management. The respondents said their key qualifications for employees include work ethic (the most-given response), customer service skills, relevant work experience and subject matter familiarity, and punctuality, among others.

But the “plan” accompanying the survey results is sparse on new offerings. The report notes that most of the issues that small businesses face are covered by free services provided by SBS, but points out that about half of the respondents had not availed themselves of those services, requiring more outreach about SBS programs.

The report lists those various services including training and free recruitment services through 18 of the city’s Workforce1 Career Centers, human resources support, financial and free legal assistance, and more. But it focuses more on the need to more broadly educate small businesses about these services rather than providing new ones.

“SBS is always looking to expand the offerings we provide to small businesses and as their needs continue to adapt, our programming teams are working to address each demand,” an SBS spokesperson said in a statement, when asked if the report had prompted any additional services.

Council Member Cornegy was not made available for comment on the initial results of his bills that became law.

Dvorkin said the city needs to do more. He pointed out, as the report notes, that SBS runs a Customized Training program intended to help businesses invest in employee training with grants up to $400,000, which can address the most dire need expressed by business owners in the survey. But that program is only available for businesses that train batches of at least 10 or more employees at once, effectively being out of reach for the 90% of small businesses that have fewer than 10 employees.

“It fundamentally presents a disconnect,” Dvorkin said, insisting that the city should try to expand these services for smaller workforces. “Most small businesses are not ever going to be able to actually access this really effective and really important service that the city provides.”

He did note that there would be considerable costs associated with added services. “You may not be able to scale it up to meet the needs across the entire city without a significant new influx of dollars,” he said. “But I think, to be able to test out the model to see, can this work for companies that are only training five employees or three employees? We won't know until we try.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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First Mandated Survey of Small Businesses Identifies Problems But City Points to Existing Services Mon, 07 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Solving New York City’s Next Big Census Problem https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8676-solving-new-york-city-s-new-census-problem https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8676-solving-new-york-city-s-new-census-problem resource cm carlos menchaca attends sbs

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


New Yorkers got some great news last week when President Trump abandoned plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Adding the question to the Census would have resulted in a massive undercount of the city’s population, causing New York to lose its share of billions in federal funding for vital programs and services.

But there’s another wrinkle in this upcoming Census that could significantly depress participation across the city: the move to a digital Census. This will be the first-ever Census to be completed largely online. Though this change will be welcome news for many tech-savvy New Yorkers, it will bring new challenges in a city where 14 percent of residents live in households without a computer, 23 percent lack a broadband connection at home, and many more aren’t digitally proficient.

Just as city leaders stood up and fought the proposed inclusion of the citizenship question, New York City needs a wide-scale effort to make sure the move to a digital Census does not deter large numbers of New Yorkers from completing their forms. One way they can do this is by partnering in a big way with New York City’s branch libraries.

In recent years, libraries have extended far beyond their historical book-lending role to become the city’s most accessible technology hub for New Yorkers on the wrong side of the digital divide. In addition to providing computer stations, laptop loans, and free internet, they are also a place where those with limited tech literacy can get a helping hand from librarians.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers already turn to branch libraries for tech help, whether it is applying to a job online, filling out Medicare applications, or simply staying in touch with family via email or Facebook. 

Beyond having a substantial technology infrastructure, libraries have unparalleled reach: the city’s 216 branch libraries are on the ground in nearly every community across the five boroughs. Importantly, libraries are also one of the city’s most trusted institutions, providing a range of services in multiple languages but never asking for personal information.

All this makes libraries a natural fit to extend their services to help New Yorkers fill out the digital Census.

Right now, however, it’s not clear that the city’s libraries have the capacity to do this effectively. Many branches across the five boroughs don’t have laptops to loan, and most libraries have at most six or twelve computer terminals, barely enough to serve existing demand.

Beyond the need for more dedicated computers, laptops, and tablets, libraries will need additional staff to help the many patrons who require significant assistance completing the digital Census. At most branches today, librarians are already overextended.

To his great credit, Mayor de Blasio has already launched an outreach campaign to ensure an accurate Census count, and the recently passed city budget includes $40 million to support this effort. The de Blasio administration should devote a portion of those funds to the city’s libraries. Doing so would empower branches across the city to ramp up their capacity and harness their considerable potential to boost participation in the online Census. 

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Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity in New York. On Twitter @jbowlesnyc & @nycfuture.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Solving New York City’s Next Big Census Problem Tue, 16 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Two Years After New York City Expanded Protections for Freelancers, State Yet to Act https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8499-two-years-after-new-york-city-expanded-protections-for-freelancers-state-yet-to-act https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8499-two-years-after-new-york-city-expanded-protections-for-freelancers-state-yet-to-act freelancers rally

Council Members Rafael Espinal, left, & Brad Lander (photo: City Council)


Two years ago, the New York City Council’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act went into effect, giving freelance workers legal protections against wage theft, delayed payments, employer retaliation, and lack of contracts for their work. The first-of-its-kind law has since allowed the city to recoup thousands of dollars in wages for hundreds of freelancers and was broadly praised as a laudable and necessary step in a changed and still-changing economy.

But as the City Council, with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support, has taken additional steps to help independent contractors and freelance workers in the booming ‘gig economy,’ similar action has been glaringly lacking at the state level.

In December, when Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his “first 100 days agenda” for the start of his third term in 2019, with a speech at the Roosevelt Institute in Manhattan, he spoke of New York’s changing economy and the challenges that freelance workers face, seemingly putting down a marker that the state would pursue action on the topic.

“The so-called gig economy is a growing economic engine. Freelancers, independent contractors, consultants are replacing traditional employees,” he said. “And while many welcome the freedom and the flexibility of these arrangements, there are also pitfalls that go along with the positive. Gig jobs do not come with paid sick leave, they do not come with vacation days, or parental rights, or workers' compensation, or protection against work related discrimination, or protections against wage and hour violations. We want an economy that moves forward. We want an economy of tomorrow. But we want an economy that moves everyone forward, not just some forward.”

But Cuomo did not follow suit with any proposals either in his January State of the State speech or executive budget presentation. The final budget agreement reached with the Legislature at the end of March did not include new protections for gig economy workers. It appears to be the only issue Cuomo mentioned in his December speech where he did not then follow up with concrete proposals.

In January, Hazel Crampton-Hays, then a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that the administration was “exploring whether we need new rules to help protect impacted workers or whether the Department of Labor can issue regulations.”

In a statement on Thursday, Cuomo spokesperson Caitlin Girouard said, “We are engaging with the legislature, interested stakeholders and relevant state agencies on ways to address this issue and come up with meaningful solutions.”

New York City, meanwhile, has been attempting to bring a semblance of order and accountability to the gig economy through local laws. Last year, the City Council passed a living wage requirement for drivers who work for app-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. The bill was challenged in court by Lyft and upheld by a state Supreme Court judge just this Wednesday.

Council Member Brad Lander, who spearheaded the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, says his legislation should be enacted statewide, rather than through regulation by the Labor Department, as just the first step in addressing the woes of a growing sector of workers.

“The vote was 51 to nothing here, the Republicans voted for it. Everyone agrees you should not be cheated out of getting paid for work you did and I would think it would be a no-brainer to pass it,” he said in an interview outside City Hall earlier this year.

The law has clearly been working. According to data from the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, the agency tasked with enforcing the law, to date, the department has received 561 inquiries about the law and fielded 764 complaints from freelancers, and has helped them recover just under $1 million ($978,928.66) in lost wages.

The department is also set to hold a Freelance Isn’t Free Day on May 15, exactly two years since the law took effect, at the Freelancers Hub in Brooklyn.

“New York City knows the value of its many freelancer workers and the challenges they face, and we are proud to have implemented the Freelance Isn’t Free Act—the first and only law of its kind in the country,” DCA spokesperson Abigail Lootens said in a statement.

“Albany has just not gotten started yet,” said Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat. “I’m glad the governor spoke to it in his 100 day agenda, I’m sorry they haven’t yet moved forward with proposals. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, taking it statewide, that’s a great place to start.”

Among the major challenges of creating new legislation, Lander said, is the lack of uniformity in who is considered a freelancer or independent contractor, and the myriad sectors where lax enforcement means workers are exploited. Day laborers and domestic workers, for instance, are viewed as independent workers but not officially considered so. (As an aside, Lander even said recently-passed laws to provide predictable schedules to fast food workers were necessary since they were increasingly being treated like independent workers.)

“As freelance and independent work have grown, a set of problems have grown in the economy because it wasn’t designed to provide protections and supports for those workers and there’s really some gaping holes,” Lander said. “Some of them are hard to fix. It’s not easy to figure out how to do portable benefits and retirement security. We should solve those problems and we’re gonna keep pushing forward here at the Council.”

At the state level, Assemblymember Harry Bronson, a Monroe County Democrat, has introduced a bill to ensure independent contractors are paid on time. In a statement, Bronson emphasized that the state’s workforce has dramatically changed but labor laws have not kept pace. “The modern economy has led to the rise of individual workers being classified - or intentionally misclassified - as “independent contractors” or “freelancers.” Many of these independent contractors do the same work as traditional employees, and in some cases participate in work alongside traditional employees, yet they are not afforded the same wage, hour, and benefit protections under the law as their traditionally employed counterparts,” he said. “This increases their vulnerability to wage theft and creates barriers to health, retirement and other benefits traditional employees receive.” Bronson also said he is working on similar legislation to protect workers in the gig economy.

New York City had more than half a million independent workers last year, according to a May 2018 report by freelance online platform Fiverr, which partnered with Rockbridge Associates to analyze Census Bureau statistics. The report found that independent workers brought in $103 billion in revenue for the state between 2011-2015.

“Governor Cuomo was absolutely right to mention the issues facing freelance and independent workers in his 2019 agenda but it’s really disappointing that the issues seem to have fallen off the radar since then,” said Eli Dvorkin, policy director of the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit think tank.

Dvorkin said the state’s social security net hasn’t kept up with the changing economy and that the state can’t “regulate our way out of this challenge” by solely focusing on issues such as protections against worker discrimination or how to classify an independent contractor. The state needs to take a proactive approach, he said, and could become “the leading state pioneering portable benefits, which would be a system of flexible benefits that are accessible to independent workers and that travel with workers as they move from job to job.”

No state across the country has passed legislation to establish portable benefits for independent workers, though a bill has twice been introduced in the Washington State legislature and Dvorkin speculated that it could soon pass. In New York, former Assemblymember Joe Morelle, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last year, floated the idea of legislation on portable benefits but it seemed to fizzle away.

For legislators looking for inspiration, Dvorkin said a portable benefits program could feasibly be modelled after the Black Car Fund, which was created by the state Legislature in 1999 to provide workers compensation to livery car drivers.

“We developed this system 20 years ago. We just haven’t really updated it or done anything really focused on these issues since then,” Dvorkin said. The fund’s recently-exposed fiscal management issues notwithstanding, he said it provides the basic framework for mandating a surcharge, either in one sector or across different sectors, that would feed a fund for workers, giving them access to health insurance and workers compensation, among other benefits.

“Without being able to pool your needs with others in your situation, your costs are much higher,” Dvorkin said. “On a pretty basic level, we think the right approach would be one in which the clients, customers, are paying at least part of the cost of the benefits. That would make the system fair.”

He also urged the state to push the burgeoning tech sector to innovate solutions to providing benefits. He cited, for example, startups like Propel, which created an app to provide access to SNAP benefits, and Alia, designed by NDWA Labs, an arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, to give house cleaners access to benefits.

“Building out an architecture for the evolving economy that provides better worker supports and protection is a big task,” Council Member Lander said. “We’ve gotten started on it at the city level but we have a long way to go.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Two Years After New York City Expanded Protections for Freelancers, State Yet to Act Thu, 02 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Opportunity Ahead for the New CUNY Chancellor https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8490-the-opportunity-ahead-for-the-new-cuny-chancellor https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8490-the-opportunity-ahead-for-the-new-cuny-chancellor cuny office matos

Former CUNY Chancellor James Milliken, left, & incoming Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez (photo: CUNY)


Today -- Wednesday, May 1 -- Felix Matos-Rodriguez assumes the post of CUNY chancellor following a year-long search. After successfully leading two CUNY colleges, Chancellor Matos-Rodriguez takes over an institution that has made important strides in recent years, including opening an innovative new community college and launching nationally renowned programs like CUNY ASAP.

To help grow New York City’s middle class and greatly expand economic opportunity, CUNY’s next leader will need to make boosting college and career success his highest priority.

The nation’s largest urban public university provides many thousands of New Yorkers from low-income backgrounds with an education that can make the difference between persistent economic struggle and transformative economic and social mobility.

But CUNY still has work to do. Too many students drop out without a credential; graduates do not always end up on the path to career success; curriculum development can lag behind the city’s fast-changing economy; and CUNY sometimes struggles to tune in to the needs of employers.

There’s no time to lose. Today nearly 3.4 million New Yorkers age 25 and older lack any sort of post-secondary credential, exacerbating the city’s opportunity divide. While nearly 61% of Manhattan residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, the same is true for just 19% of those in the Bronx.

For residents without a college credential, far too many of the city’s growing, well-paying occupations -- from software developer to registered nurse -- remain out of reach.

Narrowing that divide depends on CUNY.

There’s no institution better positioned to help lower-income and first-generation students earn a post-secondary credential -- and with it, the opportunity to participate in and shape the economy of the future. But despite recent progress, only 22% of students who enter CUNY's community colleges graduate in three years. At CUNY’s senior colleges, just 55% earn a degree in six years. Getting more New Yorkers on the path to economic opportunity will require a major effort to increase the number of students who graduate with a degree.

The new chancellor’s first goal should be to dramatically improve those figures. Fortunately, CUNY has at least two programs proven to significantly boost completion rates: CUNY ASAP and CUNY Start.

ASAP provides a set of integrated supports to community college students, including free MetroCards and intensive academic counseling. Start is a bootcamp program that significantly boosts academic readiness for underprepared students without burning through their financial aid. Both programs should be made available to all community college students, and a version of ASAP should expand to senior colleges, too.

While it’s true that most community college students enter the classroom struggling with at least one core subject, traditional remedial programs just don’t work. Students in these programs are far more likely to drop out, even though research shows that most can succeed with a little help.

Chancellor Matos-Rodriguez should champion a system-wide effort to move away from traditional remedial education in favor of highly effective alternatives like the corequisite model, which allows students to pursue credit-bearing courses from day one with extra support.

But the challenge for the next chancellor doesn’t end at graduation day. CUNY lacks a strategy to ensure that a CUNY credential leads to career success.

The next chancellor should lead a major effort to engage employers around every campus and develop industry-informed curricula tailored to growing occupations in tech, hospitality, creative industries, healthcare, construction, and beyond.

This will require CUNY to quicken the pace of development for new programs and courses and speed up technology procurement -- and New York City and State should support these efforts with more funding for employer engagement and a faster approvals process for new programs. Additional goals should include launching new apprenticeship programs with industry partners, expanding the number of internships and work-study opportunities available to CUNY students, and pushing to increase and improve career counseling services.

CUNY should also take steps to develop new certificate programs -- designed in partnership with employers, unions, or trade associations -- that can provide community college students with a marketable credential that counts toward a two- or four-year degree.

Doing all this will require sustained and expanded support from New York City and State. But it will also depend on strong and creative leadership at a decisive moment for public higher education. The new chancellor should ensure that CUNY’s faculty, administrators, and curricula have the flexibility to move at the speed of technology and a clear mandate to prepare students for the jobs -- and opportunities -- of the future.

By focusing his administration on elevating college and career success, Chancellor Matos-Rodriguez can help the nation’s largest urban university become its most effective launchpad to the middle class.

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Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. Winston C. Fisher is partner at Fisher Brothers and co-chair of the New York City Regional Economic Development Council. On Twitter @jbowlesNYC & @Wnston_Fisher1@nycfuture.

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The Opportunity Ahead for the New CUNY Chancellor Tue, 30 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
15 Ideas for Expanding Economic Opportunity in New York in 2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8241-15-ideas-for-expanding-economic-opportunity-in-new-york-in-2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8241-15-ideas-for-expanding-economic-opportunity-in-new-york-in-2019 govandcuomo oppagenda

(photo: Governor's office)


New York’s Legislature has been on a tear in the first days of 2019, passing the DREAM Act to help undocumented students pay for college, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and overhauling the state’s antiquated election laws. Now lawmakers have an opportunity to take similarly bold steps to reduce income inequality statewide.  

It’s time to build on early momentum and help lift more New Yorkers into the middle class. To do so, the Center for an Urban Future (CUF) has laid out 15 proposals that the state Legislature can implement this year to help thousands more New Yorkers build the skills and educational credentials needed to get ahead in today’s economy.

1. Double the number of apprenticeships statewide
Research shows that apprenticeships are among the most successful strategies for lifting low-income residents into the middle class, allowing participants to earn a living while learning on the job. But with a workforce of more than 8.2 million and just 17,000 apprentices, New York has an enormous opportunity to expand this model into fast-growing industries from healthcare and tech to hospitality and green energy. The Legislature should pass legislation supporting this goal, which Governor Cuomo proposed in his 2019 agenda, and allocate funding to expand apprenticeship programs statewide.

2. Boost the number of college graduates by creating a Student Success Fund
A college credential has become the floor to accessing a well-paying job in today’s economy, but college completion rates are alarmingly low among the state’s community colleges. Only 26 percent of SUNY community college students graduate in three years, and at CUNY community colleges that rate is just 22 percent. New York should create a statewide Student Success Fund to implement and expand evidence-backed programs that boost student success at SUNY and CUNY community colleges. This fund could be used to lower the ratio of college advisors to students, expand highly successful initiatives like CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), and support the development of corequisite instruction models that help underprepared students succeed.

3. Establish the nation’s first Automation Preparation Plan
Automation and artificial intelligence will likely displace thousands of jobs across the state and transform millions more. CUF’s research suggests that 1.2 million jobs statewide could be largely automated using technology that exists today, with lasting consequences for workers in every corner of the state. New York should get ahead of this by launching the nation’s first Automation Preparation Plan, which would include new investments that upskill workers in fields that are most at risk of displacement, provide new opportunities for New Yorkers to pursue lifelong learning, and retrain workers whose jobs are eliminated.  

4. Tweak the Excelsior Scholarship to benefit more students
New York’s Excelsior Scholarship helps make college affordable for more families, but a few strategic tweaks would ensure that many more New Yorkers can take advantage of this promising—but far too limited—scholarship program. In the program’s first year, only 3.2 percent of the 633,543 undergraduates statewide received an award from the Excelsior program. The Legislature should enact reforms to reduce the program’s credit requirement to equal a regular full-time courseload, support summer enrollment to help students progress more quickly, and add funding to cover more non-tuition financial barriers that otherwise derail low-income students from the path to graduation.

5. Develop a statewide workforce development plan
New York lacks enough skilled talent to meet the current and future needs of the labor market. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers could benefit from new skills and credentials that can help them get ahead in a fast-changing economy. To meet these growing needs, New York needs to develop its first statewide workforce development plan. The Legislature can support this goal by directing the state’s new Office of Workforce Development and every state agency with a role in the system to work together on developing a fully integrated plan that leverages shared resources, connects services, and establishes clear outcome measures.

6. Expand bridge programs to boost skills while preparing New Yorkers for jobs
Governor Cuomo and the Legislature passed a historic $175 million investment in workforce development last year, which will help thousands of New Yorkers train for jobs. But for millions of New Yorkers who lack math and literacy skills, gaining entry to effective workforce programs will first require boosting their basic skills. That’s what bridge programs do best: help adults with limited formal education acquire the skills they need to transition into training and higher education. Legislators should increase support for this highly effective approach and ensure that programs using the bridge model are available to workers statewide.

7. Fix TAP to make college affordable for part-time students
Part-time students now account for 43 percent of all students enrolled in community colleges statewide—up from 32 percent in 1980—but the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) is almost exclusively available to full-time students. This hurts New Yorkers from low- and moderate-income communities who understand the importance of a college credential but can only afford to attend school on a part-time basis. To help more working New Yorkers pay for college, legislators should lift restrictions on the state’s current part-time TAP program and make college affordable for part-time students, too.

8. Build a statewide hub for labor market data to improve workforce programs
To make the most of New York’s vital new investments in workforce development, the Legislature should mandate the creation of a publicly-accessible labor-market information tool, managed by the Office of Workforce Development. This tool will help inform workforce development providers, employers, and job-seekers, and ensure that state-funded programs are more responsive to the needs of employers and more effective for their participants.

9. Revise seat-time requirements so students can learn through hands-on experience
Innovative high schools across the country are getting students out of the classroom and into the real world, whether through apprenticeships, career-exploration programs, or internships in fast-growing industries like tech and healthcare. But New York is restricted in its ability to cultivate hands-on programs for high school students by long-standing “seat-time” requirements, which typically require students to spend 90 percent of their days in class. New York can spark new approaches to hands-on learning by rolling back these requirements and replacing them with proficiency-based credits.

10. Create new challenge grants to incentivize remedial education reform at New York’s public colleges
Each year, thousands of students are placed into remedial education at SUNY and CUNY colleges, with serious consequences for their academic and economic futures. These students typically use up their financial aid without earning college credit and the vast majority drop out without a degree. Research shows that many underprepared students can succeed in alternatives to traditional remediation—and both SUNY and CUNY have new programs that are working. But to incentivize these reforms at scale, New York should create new time-limited challenge grants to spur every campus to reform remedial education.

11. Increase funding for adult education for the first time in decades
More than 1.5 million adults in New York lack a high school diploma or equivalent, and 2.3 million are less than proficient in English. For these New Yorkers, adult education programs can provide a critical link to effective job training, educational opportunities, and better wages. But New York’s primary funding source for adult education, the Employment Preparation Education (EPE) program, has plunged 36 percent since 1996, after adjusting for inflation. The Legislature should reverse this alarming trend with a new investment in adult education.

12. Invest in high school equivalency preparation and bring adult education into the 21st century by computerizing TASC test centers
Too few New Yorkers are taking and passing the state’s high school equivalency exam, known as the TASC. The number of residents earning a credential has fallen by nearly half since 2010, and New York is tied for the lowest pass rate in the nation. To help more New Yorkers get a foothold in a changing economy, New York needs to significantly boost high school equivalency attainment statewide. The Legislature can help ensure more New Yorkers pass the test by increasing funding for test preparation, accelerating the development of computer-based testing centers, and expanding professional development to train instructors.

13. Launch a statewide Career Pathways fund to spur new education and training programs
The state’s fragmented funding system for workforce development makes it difficult to develop workforce programs that meet the full scope of needs statewide. As part of a broader effort to create a cohesive statewide workforce development plan, the Legislature should launch a Career Pathways funding application that supports activities across the full spectrum of workforce programs, including innovative bridge models, pre-apprenticeships, initiatives focused on youth and older adults, and other important programs that could otherwise be left behind.

14. Encourage low-income New Yorkers to save by nixing asset limits for assistance programs
Federal programs intended to combat poverty, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), are a vital source of support for New

York’s low-income families. But a little-known state rule restricts families who receive public benefits to just $2,000 in savings or assets. The result is that low-income families are penalized for saving. The Legislature should follow the lead of states ranging from Hawaii to Alabama to eliminate this rule and help more New Yorkers get on the path to financial stability.

15. Fulfill cost-of-living adjustments for human services organizations with state contracts
Critical but often overlooked, New York’s human services organizations provide the foundation of support required to help New Yorkers on the path to economic opportunity. But these organizations themselves face significant financial burdens, including government contracts that fail to cover the true cost of services. To strengthen New York’s vital human services sector, state legislators should reinstate the statutory human services workforce cost-of-living adjustment—providing salary bumps to workers who have gone nine years without an increase—and continue to include $100 million in capital funding for nonprofit infrastructure.

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Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. Eli Dvorkin is CUF’s editorial and policy director. On Twitter @jbowlesnyc & @wetwax & @NYCFuture.

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15 Ideas for Expanding Economic Opportunity in New York in 2019 Wed, 30 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
To Help More Students Succeed in College, Reform Remedial Education https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8171-to-help-more-students-succeed-in-college-reform-remedial-education https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8171-to-help-more-students-succeed-in-college-reform-remedial-education class2018 laguardia comm

(photo via LaGuardia Community College)


New York’s community college students face long odds of graduating. Only 25 percent of community college students statewide—and just 22 percent in New York City—earn an associate’s degree in three years, an enormous barrier to economic opportunity in a state where a college credential is becoming the floor to career success. There are multiple reasons why so many New Yorkers aren’t making it through college, but one major driver is clear: far too many students entering community colleges in New York are being pushed into remedial education programs.

Recognizing that developmental education is unintentionally derailing students from the path to a degree, both CUNY and SUNY are taking important steps to reform this system from the ground up. Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature should support these essential efforts by setting broad goals for reducing the number of students in remedial programs and funding innovative alternatives at community colleges statewide.

Remedial education has long been viewed as a necessity, since large numbers of students enter the state’s public colleges academically underprepared. At New York’s community colleges, which take all applicants and serve thousands of low-income and first-generation college students each year, most students enter struggling with at least one core subject like math or reading, and the majority are placed into remedial education.

But researchers now know that traditional remedial programs aren’t working. Students entering these programs are far more likely to drop out by the end of their first year, and the vast majority will fail to graduate with a degree—even as studies show that many students could have succeeded by staying out of developmental education entirely.

In recent years, roughly three-quarters of CUNY community college students placed into at least one remedial math, writing, or reading course. Nearly 90 percent of these students will not earn an on-time degree, and six in ten remedial math students will have dropped out within two years. Whatever initial excitement spurred these students into college quickly fades, as some of their peers make progress toward a degree while they remain stuck in classes that feel like high school never ended—all while burning through financial aid.

A better system is possible, and it starts with placing fewer students there in the first place.

In fact, evidence shows that high-stakes placement tests are weak predictors of a student’s potential, and many students who end up in remedial education can succeed in credit-bearing courses. CUNY and SUNY are developing smarter placement algorithms that analyze more than just test scores, and this data-backed reform should expand.

Of course, some underprepared students will require extra support to succeed in college. These students need access to programs that can build academic skills while maintaining momentum toward a degree.

That’s where innovative new approaches can make a difference. Study after study has shown that reimagined alternatives to remedial education programs are working for underprepared students by improving learning outcomes, boosting college completion, and speeding the path to a credential.

For instance, CUNY’s Start program has shown tremendous early results by providing an intensive, single-semester course combined with significant academic and non-academic support—all without using up financial aid. In addition, CUNY is expanding the highly-promising corequisite model, which places students in credit-bearing math and English courses bolstered by weekly support sessions. This approach is proving effective, helping students pass gateway math and English courses at higher rates and even improving college completion. Likewise, SUNY’s Math Pathways program is taking a similar approach to rethink math remediation for underprepared community college students.

As evidence mounts that these new strategies are working, it’s time for New York policymakers to give remedial reform a major boost. First, the State Legislature should pass a law setting broad goals for improving support systems for underprepared students, significantly decreasing the remedial population, and aligning SUNY’s and CUNY’s approaches with best practices nationwide, while leaving the specifics up to education leaders. Policymakers should then fuel progress toward these goals by implementing a new time-limited challenge grant for community colleges, aimed at expanding remedial education reforms quickly and efficiently to campuses statewide.

Traditional remedial education has been just another stumbling block on the road to a college credential. By investing in comprehensive remedial education reform, New York State can lift up underprepared students and put thousands more on track to a brighter economic future.

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Eli Dvorkin is editorial and policy director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. On Twitter @WetWax & @nycfuture.

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To Help More Students Succeed in College, Reform Remedial Education Thu, 03 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Revitalizing New York’s Aging Parks https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7769-revitalizing-new-york-s-aging-parks https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7769-revitalizing-new-york-s-aging-parks parks department

(photo: Parks Department)


New Yorkers are all too familiar with the consequences of aging urban infrastructure. Years of underinvestment in New York City’s century-old subway system has led to a full-blown transit crisis, with rampant delays, consistently overcrowded trains, and frequent equipment breakdowns.

But the subways are just the most glaring problem in an aging city. Another vital piece of public infrastructure is also several decades old, years behind on basic maintenance, and nearing a breaking point: New York City’s parks system.

With more than 100 million parks visitors each year and the city’s population at a record high, New York’s 1,700 public parks have never been busier. These open spaces provide a communal backyard to millions, with major benefits for health and happiness in every corner of the city. But the combination of advanced age, record usage, and decades of underinvestment in maintenance and infrastructure means that serious cracks are showing.

The average city park is 73 years old, and parks in every borough are struggling with aging assets that are at or near the end of their useful lives—including drainage systems, retaining walls, and bridges. About 40 percent of pools and almost half of the 53 recreation centers in city parks were built before 1950. The waterfront facilities overseen by the Parks Department—148 miles of coastline, including beaches, marinas, piers, and docks—are on average 76 years old.

Yet one in five parks has not had a major infrastructure upgrade in 25 years, according to a new report from the Center for an Urban Future. At least 46 parks, triangles, and plazas have not received significant capital investment in nearly a century.

In many cases, the results are plain to see. Serious flooding, damaged pathways, missing stairs, out-of-order bathrooms, and neglected horticulture are common problems in parks across all five boroughs. Other times, the infrastructure issues are hidden from view. For example, numerous drainage systems in city parks still rely on clay pipes from the mid-20th century. Most of the city’s thousands of park retaining walls are cracking and in need of repair or replacement. And one in five park bridges was found to be seriously deteriorated during its most recent inspection.

As maintenance and infrastructure needs soar, the city has struggled to keep pace. The Parks Department’s state-of-good-repair needs jumped 45 percent over the past decade, from $405.9 million in 2007 to $589.1 million last year. Meanwhile, recommended maintenance needs more than doubled, from $14 million to $34 million. But fewer than 15 percent of these needs were funded in the city’s most recent budget—among the lowest levels of any agency.

Although age is the major culprit contributing to mounting infrastructure needs, decades of underinvestment in basic maintenance has taken a toll. The Parks Department has too few full-time staff—including plumbers, masons, and gardeners—to keep parks assets in good shape and mitigate problems before they grow. New York’s system has about 150 gardeners citywide for roughly 20,000 acres of parkland—a ratio of 1 gardener to every 133 acres. By comparison, San Francisco employs over 200 gardeners for 4,113 acres of parkland—a ratio of 1 to 20.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council deserve credit for taking important steps to address parks infrastructure needs. In recent years, the Community Parks Initiative and Anchor Parks Initiative have dedicated more than $300 million to improve chronically underfunded parks, with significant benefits in every borough. But there’s still much more work to do to shore up the city’s aging parks system and lay the foundation for the next century of public open space.

It starts with committing to strategic increases in the Parks Department’s expense budget, with the goal of permanently funding much-needed skilled maintenance staff such as gardeners and foresters, masons, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and other skilled workers, while closing the maintenance gap. In addition, the mayor and the City Council should establish a dedicated pool of capital funds for the parks system’s unsexy infrastructure—such as drainage systems and retaining walls—which are often passed over in discretionary funding.

To pay for all this, New York City should explore new revenue streams dedicated to parks maintenance and unglamorous capital projects. For example, a small surcharge on tickets to sporting events and greens fees at city golf courses could fund routine maintenance at parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers. Likewise, a surcharge on dockage fees at city-owned marinas could be used to maintain waterfront facilities. There are also numerous parks where the city could add a reasonable number of concessions that enhance the experience of parkgoers while providing vital new sources of revenue.

Given the scale of the parks system’s needs, the city’s capital dollars need to stretch as far as possible. But today, that’s hardly the case. A single bathroom can cost upward of $3 million and ten-year renovations are not uncommon. The mayor should make reforming the broken capital construction process a top priority, and the Parks Department should work to significantly speed up each phase of the process under its control.

New York’s public parks have benefited countless New Yorkers for well over a century. By investing wisely in their revitalization, these essential open spaces can continue to thrive into the next century and beyond.

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Eli Dvorkin is managing editor of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. On Twitter @nycfuture & @wetwax.

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Revitalizing New York’s Aging Parks Mon, 25 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Tourism Industry Deserves Credit for Major Job Growth https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7661-new-york-city-tourism-industry-deserves-credit-for-major-job-growth https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7661-new-york-city-tourism-industry-deserves-credit-for-major-job-growth mayorsoffice ferry

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


Over the past two decades, tourism to New York City has swelled from 33 million to nearly 63 million annual visitors, with powerful ripples throughout the city’s economy. Once just one sector among many, tourism has risen to become one of the top four employment drivers in the city, according to a new report published by the Center for an Urban Future, the Association for a Better New York, and the Times Square Alliance

This spike in tourists has sparked hundreds of thousands of new jobs in hotels, restaurants, retail shops, museums, airports, tour bus companies, and even travel-tech startups. More than 291,000 New Yorkers count on tourism for their jobs—putting it on par with the tech ecosystem, the creative economy, and the finance industry. Better yet, the tourism industry provides real, middle-class jobs with an average annual income of $62,000, outpacing comparable sectors like manufacturing.

Given this new data, the city should make concrete efforts that recognize tourism’s role in the region’s economy. Investments in infrastructure, marketing and promotion, and other commonsense initiatives that make this region more convenient to visit will fuel growth across many job sectors.

The city will need to upgrade its tourism infrastructure. New York has never adequately planned for 60 million tourists a year, and it has not made enough of the infrastructure investments that are needed to sustain this many annual visitors. The city needs to create new solutions for tour bus parking and elected officials should push to modernize the air traffic control system. The city should also create its first long-term tourism plan, with involvement from economic development, planning, and transportation agencies.

Despite the stunning influx of tourists, New York’s tourism sector faces several new and evolving challenges, from the strong dollar to a tourism promotion budget that has not stayed competitive with that of marketing agencies in other global destinations. New York boasts one of the best tourism promotion agencies in the world, NYC & Company, but the city should increase its budget to support its important mission and bolster the tourism industry citywide.

With tourists accounting for roughly 70 percent of passengers at JFK Airport and 50 percent at LaGuardia, the Port Authority should continue its work to improve the airport experience. The agency has made important investments in recent years, but should consider new initiatives like free WiFi in all airports, and more multilingual staff and wayfinding signage in terminals to support and encourage tourism.

New investments in infrastructure and a more welcoming environment for tourists would have resounding effects across the economy. Tourists are responsible for 24 percent of all Visa credit card transactions at the city’s restaurants and bars, and make nearly one-fifth of all purchases at the city’s retail stores, a crucial boost as many retailers face increasing pressure from online competition.

Out-of-towners are also fueling the growth in attendance at cultural institutions—and the job gains that have come with it. Tourists now comprise 73 percent of visitors to the Museum of Modern Art, 70 percent of visitors to the Whitney Museum of American Art, and 60 percent of the Metropolitan Museum’s visitors. The city’s museums and historical sites have added 4,500 jobs in the past 15 years—an 86 percent increase.

With a billion people poised to join the ascendant global middle class, opportunity lies ahead for New York City’s tourism economy—along with thousands of new jobs. But channeling sustainable growth in the future will require increased planning and a new way of thinking about the 60-plus million annual tourists that the city has today.

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Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. Angela Pinsky is executive director of the Association for a Better New York. Tim Tompkins is president of the Times Square Alliance.

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New York City Tourism Industry Deserves Credit for Major Job Growth Tue, 08 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Transit Crisis Without A Rescue Plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7472-the-transit-crisis-without-a-rescue-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7472-the-transit-crisis-without-a-rescue-plan transit crisis rescue

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Even as the subways reach the breaking point, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers face an additional commuting crisis: the lack of fast, reliable transit service in huge swaths of the boroughs outside Manhattan. In neighborhoods from Flatlands to Queens Village to Castle Hill, getting to work is a grinding chore, even when the trains are on time. That’s because the transit system has failed to keep pace with the demand for better service outside the city’s core.

Unlike the subway meltdown, this crisis still lacks a rescue plan. New York needs to get serious about improving bus and subway service outside Manhattan.

These punishing commutes are especially painful for the nearly half-million workers in the New York’s booming healthcare sector. The workers who heal us are hurting the most.

They face the longest mass transit commutes of any private-sector workers citywide—a median of more than 51 minutes—as revealed in a new report from the Center for an Urban Future, and their commutes have increased at more than double the rate of all workers in the city.

Roughly two-thirds of all healthcare jobs are in the boroughs outside Manhattan, with many far from the nearest subway. Of the city’s major healthcare facilities—including 21 hospitals and nearly 40 percent of nursing homes—our research found that almost one third are more than eight blocks from the closest subway station. This has given these nurses, health aides, and medical technicians a front seat to the shortcomings of an antiquated and broken system—assuming they can find a seat at all.

The slow and unreliable bus system compounds these frustrations, though there is rarely an alternative. More than 80,000 healthcare workers (17 percent of all employees in the sector) rely on buses every day—higher than any other industry.

Some sectors, like finance, have seen commutes shrink for city residents over the past two decades, as employees have moved closer to work. But healthcare workers have instead been pushed to the city’s more affordable periphery, especially the swelling ranks of home health aides, who typically make less than $25,000 per year.

Healthcare workers may have especially arduous commutes, yet the challenges they face reflect a broader trend reshaping New York City, where much recent job growth is occurring outside the Manhattan core. Thirty years ago, the four boroughs outside Manhattan were home to 35 percent of the city’s private sector jobs. Today, it’s 41 percent.

The boroughs have also been home to 87 percent of the city’s population growth since 1990, and most of the gains in transit ridership. But transit service has not kept pace with these demographic and economic trends. Meanwhile, little new investment has gone into improving existing service in these parts of the city—much less adding new service to address gaps.

To build a city that works for all of its residents, New York City and State needs to prioritize improving transit service in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

New York’s local leaders need to get behind a congestion pricing plan, such as that proposed by the Fix NYC panel, that will create a dedicated revenue stream for transit improvements. Such a plan should absolutely fund much-needed subway fixes that help reduce delays and modernize signals. But part of these new funds must go into improving and expanding service in the boroughs outside Manhattan.

The MTA should also launch a Bus Rescue Plan to mirror the essential work happening in the subways, and New Yorkers should be heartened to hear that new New York City Transit chief Andy Byford mentioned the idea. He should waste no time in crafting one. For the two million New Yorkers who ride the bus each weekday, including more than 80,000 healthcare workers, buses are the only option. But bus service across the city is unreliable, too slow, and doesn’t run frequently enough.

The MTA and DOT should implement a host of best practices, including dedicated and enforced bus lanes, signal priority at traffic lights, and all-door boarding. These improvements would cost a fraction of what is needed underground.

With a new transit chief and subway action plan, New York City may finally be on the way to fixing the trains—a critical first step in turning around a failing system. Yet transit will forever remain on life support unless New York tackles the poor service plaguing neighborhoods citywide.

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Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. Chaban is CUF’s policy director. On Twitter @jbowlesnyc & @MC_NYC & @nycfuture

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The Transit Crisis Without A Rescue Plan Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000