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Glass Half Empty in Still Depopulated NYC Office Towers

Just 47% of workers are in business districts on any given weekday — dashing any hopes for a fall return to the workplace.

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Workers returned to offices in East Midtown, April 14, 2022.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Here is your November economic recovery update from THE CITY. We publish a new analysis of the city’s employment, job and fiscal indicators each month.

Will Workers Return in January?

The latest figures on office occupancy dashed hopes that the number of workers in New York’s still-lagging business districts would increase as summer turned to fall.

The Kastle Systems tracker of average weekday office occupancy in the region has been stuck at 47% for weeks. The share of workers showing up on an average weekday in Manhattan offices is believed to be a little higher, with the Partnership for New York City’s survey of large employers in September showing that 49% of office workers were at their desks. 

However, the Partnership also found only 9% of workers came to the office five days a week — a number that would likely be even lower if not for the big banks and Wall Street firms that have required full-time attendance.


Pfizer, the giant drug company famous for its COVID vaccine, whose global headquarters is on East 42nd Street, illustrates the issue. Chief executive Albert Broula disclosed at last week’s Paley International Council Summit that one-third of his employees have not returned to the office at all since the pandemic shutdown. He said that, beginning in January, the company will require all U.S. workers to start showing up — at least part of the time.

“I started to worry we were going to lose the DNA of our company, the feeling of family,” Bourla said. “For our workforce, people with office-type jobs, we are asking them, and will start enforcing a two to three days” weekly attendance requirement.

As Inflation Ebbs, New York Remains Less Affected

New York continues to suffer less from inflation than the rest of the country, according to the latest local Consumer Price Index data released Thursday.

Nationally, prices rose 7.7% from the same time last year, which was lower than expected and less than in previous months.


In the New York area, the CPI increased 6%, almost two percentage points below the national rate. It ranks 18th among 22 metropolitan areas in the country on the inflation measure. 

In the past year, energy prices rose 15% in the region, food prices were up 8.6% and prices for all items less food and energy increased 4.9%.

At the same time, the monthly Elliman report on rents shows that rents had stabilized in Manhattan and Brooklyn, which should help reduce inflation in the coming months.

Tech jobs are downsizing

New York City lost jobs on a seasonally adjusted monthly basis for the first time since the recovery from the pandemic shutdown began 27 months ago — and the downsizing at tech giants will cost at least 1,000 New Yorkers their jobs beginning in February.

Seasonally adjusted jobs declined by 2,500 in October, the state Labor Department reported Thursday, as usual gains in retail and high education jobs in the month failed to match the historic pattern. The city has regained only 84% of the jobs lost in the pandemic, while the country as a whole showed stronger than expected gains in October and has topped the pre-pandemic employment record.

But adjusting for seasonal changes has been challenging since the pandemic altered normal employment patterns. One month may not signal an end to the city’s recovery from the pandemic.

A separate seasonal adjustment analysis by the city’s Office of Management and Budget showed a gain of 13,000 private-sector jobs, though it noted that the increase was less than in previous months.

Meanwhile, labor notices filed with the state Labor Department show that Meta, the parent company of Facebook, will lay off 871 workers in New York in early February. Meanwhile, Twitter said that it intended to jettison hundreds of workers. The employees have probably already been shown the door, but are being paid until that month to comply with federal rules about notice for large layoffs. 

The continuing turmoil at Twitter means that its job cuts are likely to be even larger. Amazon, which this week announced it was cutting 10,000 jobs, hasn’t yet indicated if any of those are in New York.

The city’s unemployment rate, which has been volatile in recent months, rose 0.3 percentage point to 5.9% in October.

 

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