Is NYC Better Off Than It Was 4 Years Ago? You Be the Judge

Friday, September 14, 2012

70 Pine Street was the home of AIG for 33 years. It now houses one tenant and is being converted into a rental apartment building. (Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

Is New York City better off than it was before President Barack Obama took office? With an election just weeks away, many variants of Ronald Reagan’s famous question to voters from 1980 are in the air.

“In New York City, and that's the only place I am an expert on, things are better than four years ago,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in response to a reporter’s question earlier this month.

But the worst economic crisis in a generation rocked many of the financial institutions that are the backbone of the New York economy, and much has changed in a short time.

Take 70 Pine Street as an example. The landmarked art deco skyscraper is Manhattan’s fifth-tallest building. For 33 years, it was the home of AIG, the world’s largest insurer.

But AIG had to sell 70 Pine Street after the insurer collapsed in September 2008, and accepted a $182 billion pledge of government aid.

The sole remaining occupant is The Ketch, a white-tablecloth fish restaurant on the ground floor.

John Lopez, the owner, estimates AIG employees once made up 40 percent of his clientele. He recalls the autumn of 2008 in the hushed tones other people might use to discuss a sick relation.

“People were scared. Even if people had money, it wasn’t cool to have an event,” Lopez said.

Eighty dollar lunches of miso-glazed salmon and chardonnay were out. But the Ketch toughed it out.

Now, new customers are showing up.

“Facebook had a group of people here,” Lopez said. “I said to my staff when I saw them come in, ‘See those young guys? That’s the future of our clientele.’”

And new potential customers will be moving in soon. After changing hands three times in four years, 70 Pine Street is being converted into a rental apartment building.

After four turbulent years, Lopez says things are improving.

And AIG? In 2009, the company moved to a smaller headquarters down the block. This week, the U.S. government sold most of its remaining stake in the insurer. Commentators marveled that a zombie company has in fact come back to life.

Here are five ways of seeing how New York’s economy has – and has not – improved in four years:

Since August 2008, New York City has regained all the jobs lost in the great recession, and added 70,000 new positions on top of that.

After a dip in 2009, sales tax revenues have surged, fueled by tourist spending in the city center, and newly opened big-box shopping centers in residential areas. In the second quarter of 2012, the city took in $218 million more than in the comparable period four years earlier.

Banks, law firms and ad agencies downsized in 2009 and 2010, sending the vacancy rate to a peak of 11.6 percent. Since then it’s fallen, but is still roughly two points higher than in 2008.

About 30 percent more people are overnighting in city shelters today compared with 2008. The city says cuts in state aid have made it harder to move the homeless into permanent housing.


This chart of year-over-year changes in the housing price index shows the value of apartments and homes in the five boroughs cratered in 2009, and dipped again in 2011. Prices are now recovering, but still stand below early 2008 levels.


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Comments [8]

Jim; from Chicago

Its much worse since Obama has been in office.

Oct. 12 2012 08:06 PM
Jim Polichak from Long Island

Of course not!
Four years ago the economy was still in free fall. The first thing that Obama had to do was to grab the brake from Bush and try to limit any additional damage. It took many years to cause the problems that erupted in 2008 and it will take many years to find a new and reasonable normal.
Will we ever get back to what we thought was normal ten or so years ago? I doubt it. Our economy has stopped being "Our Economy". Today and most likely from today on - our economy will be part of the world economy.
Here's the rub! For more than a century we've been used to a standard of living much higher than that of most of the world. Today, the middle class is larger in China than here in the U.S. if you go by the numbers. If you go by a percentage of the population it will take a few more decades for them to catch up with us.
The "pie" is only so big. It can only grow by so much each year. And there are maybe two billion more people asking for their slice.
Another part of the problem is the degree of corporate greed that we have in America. Henry Ford knew that he had to pay his workers well enough to buy his products. Today's CEOs try to squeeze out every dollar that they can and if they give any thought to selling in the domestic market they figure the other CEOs will pay their workers well enough to buy his products. Of course, if too many CEOs are paying themselves say, $57,000 a day {like Mr. Romney earns} there won't be enough money in the hands of any workers to buy more than the bare necessities of life.

Sep. 18 2012 11:21 AM
AJACs from San Francisco, CA

Comparing to 2008 is questionable in my mind if you are trying to look at Obama's effectiveness. So if you look at Q1 2009 when Obama took office, add a month or so to allow any sort of his administrations efforts to be set in place, that tells another whole story. Unfortunately, it still doesn't seem any better for the homeless and not for any of the points that Jorge XR makes. I can only comment on the graphs sitting here in San Francisco.

Sep. 15 2012 12:16 PM
juan pena

If you live in "the city" (Manhattan) or nearby and are in the 1% you could be better off, but not if you are among the rest of us in the outer boroughs.

Sep. 14 2012 11:41 PM

I'm not sure whether overall New York is better off than it was four years ago.

But I'm darned sure it's better off than it would've been had McCain/Palin been elected.

Sep. 14 2012 02:31 PM

absolutely agree with Jorge X. Money has always mattered more here than
other cities, and there seems to be less work choice, and worse terms, for the rest. we are better off if we prefer chain stores, non-entrepreneurial retail, and homogenization.

Sep. 14 2012 01:10 PM
Laura from UWS

Dear Mr. Maritz: I realize you cover the topic of business, but can we please do two things here: 1. Use the FULL Reagan quotation for measuring the difference in the last four years.“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago?
Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago?
Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?
Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago?
2. Consider not just 'business' but individuals; for example, Obamacare means everything to people with pre-existing conditions and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a great relief, too.

Sep. 14 2012 10:48 AM
Jorge X Rodriguez from Queens

New York continues to get better for the rich, worse for the poor, although that may not go on for much longer as the world runs out of rich people to send here. But the ones who are here now seem to prefer a city that looks like a Midwestern mall. As they don't read or think, upscale boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs increasingly predominate. It's hard to say whether this is 'better' or 'worse'; it's a matter of taste.

Sep. 14 2012 09:35 AM

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