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Unemployment Claims Jump as the City’s Budget Picture Grows Bleaker. Can Joe Biden Help Stem a Deeper Pandemic Recession?

People eat at a sports bar in Greenwich Village, Nov. 20, 2020.
People eat at a sports bar in Greenwich Village, Nov. 20, 2020.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Unemployment claims in New York City have soared in the month since Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned indoor dining due to a rise in COVID-19 cases — a sign of a deepening recession.

The numbers came to light as Mayor Bill de Blasio painted an increasingly bleak city budget picture and as Comptroller Scott Stringer gave President-elect Joe Biden a list of steps he could take to boost the hard-hit New York economy.

In the last month, weekly new claims for traditional jobless benefits have jumped by 80%, from 41,000 to 72,500 statewide. Meanwhile, new claims for pandemic benefits for gig economy workers, freelancers and the self-employed have increased by about 60%, from 20,000 to 32,000.

In all, about 2.5 million state residents are receiving benefits, 10 months after Cuomo first shut much of the economy in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus.

New York City represents about 55% of statewide claims, meaning about 1.4 million residents of the five boroughs are getting unemployment checks.

Data to be released next Thursday for December is almost certain to show the first decline in jobs since the recovery began in April — along with an expected increase in the unemployment rate, which had dipped to 12.1% in November.

Restaurant workers rallied in Times Square, calling on state leaders to provide additional support through the winter, Dec. 15, 2020.
Restaurant workers rallied in Times Square, calling on state leaders to provide additional support through the winter, Dec. 15, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“The most important thing New Yorkers need from its new president is decisive action to get the coronavirus under control and get people vaccinated as soon as possible,” said James Parrott, an economist at The New School. “After that, Washington needs to begin to build the economy back, through infrastructure and social investments. In New York City, we will need 400,000 more jobs over the next three years.”

‘The Rich Got Richer’

Meanwhile, de Blasio announced that the city’s preliminary budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 faced a bigger-than-expected $5.25 billion shortfall, in part because property tax revenues are expected to take a dive.

The $2.5 billion projected property tax decline in the next fiscal year is the product of a 15.75% fall in the market value of buildings for offices, retail spaces and hotels, according to City Hall.

“Why is it not even worse? Because the rich got richer,” de Blasio said, noting that income tax receipts will help stem the red ink.

The city will have lost $10.5 billion in tax revenue over three fiscal years due to the pandemic, according to City Hall — and has already spent $5.9 billion on “unexpected, critical” coronavirus-related costs.

Two planned cuts, of 3-K programming and school funding, were reversed almost in real-time during the mayor’s budget presentation. De Blasio credited the turnaround to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s announcement that the city will receive Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

The budget hole was considerably greater than a $2.56 billion gap estimated by the city Independent Budget Office only a week ago. The IBO had projected an increase in property taxes of $1.3 billion next fiscal year compared with the current year, which ends June 30.

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference with Senator Chuck Schumer at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, March 14, 2020.
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference with Senator Chuck Schumer at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, March 14, 2020.
Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

On Monday, city Comptroller Scott Stringer sent a letter to Schumer, the incoming Senate majority leader — as well as to Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — calling for an extension of extra unemployment benefits.

Also on his wish list: an increase in direct relief to most households to $2,000, direct aid to cities and states, cancellation of student debt, and a national eviction moratorium, accompanied by $50 billion in rental assistance.

“With hundreds of thousands of people in New York City unemployed, we cannot meet our residents’ needs alone,” Stringer, who is running for mayor, said in a statement to THE CITY. “New York City powers the national economy. Without us, there will be no national recovery.”

‘Outrageous and Destructive’

On the local recovery front, the controversy over the decision to shut indoor dining is simmering to a boil.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said he believes it’s likely that a significant percentage of the new unemployment claims came from restaurant workers.

THE CITY reported earlier this week that the newly opened restaurant Mark’s On Madison had to lay off part of its skeleton staff after indoor dining was prohibited.

Cuomo agreed Thursday to temporarily allow indoor dining to resume in Buffalo after an upstate judge found the state system of restricting eateries in so-called orange zones had no basis in law.

Rigie said the judge’s preliminary ruling makes Cuomo’s nixing of indoor dining seem “all the more outrageous and destructive, especially when our infection and hospitalization rates are lower than most counties where indoor dining is permitted at 50% occupancy.”

“Continuation of the indoor dining ban in New York City is divorced from any of the data and criteria the state has articulated and must be ended now,” he added.

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