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Commentary By Stephen Eide

New York's Fragile Revival

Cities New York City

New York City’s 'comeback' under de Blasio should be taken with a grain of salt.

Some predicted that when three-term mayor Michael Bloomberg left office in 2013, New York was "about to erupt into a much noisier place." Yet while incumbent mayor Bill de Blasio has been dogged by scandals and doubts about his competence, polling shows that his challengers have yet to form a serious threat – due largely to great public complacency about the state of city conditions.

De Blasio's rivals should keep at it. On crime and welfare policy, there are important questions to be asked about the direction of the city and the substance of New York's recent revival more generally.

Violent crime is rising in many major American cities, Chicago most notoriously. New York has thus far avoided surging murder numbers even while scaling back the proactive policing model promoted by organizations like the Manhattan Institute, where I am a fellow, and with which Bloomberg and Mayor Rudy Giuliani drove down crime to record lows. Accordingly, Mayor de Blasio is claiming that New York shows that cities don't need to choose between lower crime and improved police-community relations.

But New York's annual murder data under de Blasio suggest more of a plateau than a continuing decline. Homicide totals over the last four years are 335 (2013), 333 (2014), 352 (2015) and 335 (2016). The total in 2001, before Bloomberg took office, was 649.

Does de Blasio believe that 335 murders is an outrageously high sum or does he think a flat murder rate is worth the price of better relations between cops and the communities? And how can we be certain such relations have improved? Theoretically, a city with strong police-community relations would be inclined to dismiss even a heinous officer-involved shooting as an aberration. Under de Blasio, New York's activist community has not seemed any more inclined to respect and trust the NYPD than they did under Bloomberg.

Welfare policy is inseparable from the question of whether New York and other cities still function as the beacons of opportunity that they were for so many poor, immigrant families in the late 19th and early 20th century. During New York's "bad old days," the city's reputation as a vehicle for upward mobility became hard to reconcile with ever-escalating numbers of New Yorkers on welfare. The peak came in 1995, when public assistance rolls hit 1.2 million.

In response, Mayor Giuliani, along with the Manhattan Institute and partners at the state and national level, pushed for welfare reform. Critics warned that poverty would explode if governments started subjecting cash assistance recipients to work requirements and time limits for their benefits.

These fears proved unfounded – the poverty rate has not spiked during the welfare reform era. But while dependence on cash welfare has declined, enrollment in other major safety net programs has increased. Since 2001, the number of New Yorkers on Supplemental Security Income and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) benefits has increased by 25,000 and 880,000, respectively. Forty-two percent of New York City's population is now on Medicaid. Even at their highest mark, the public assistance numbers only reached 16 percent.

The de Blasio administration has actively boosted rates of dependence by easing up on work requirements for cash welfare and repealing them entirely for SNAP recipients. De Blasio takes tremendous pride in the number of affordable housing units his administration has developed, even though such programs have an extremely weak record of moving the poor into the middle class. There are neighborhoods in the South Bronx and Brooklyn where less than 10 percent of the rental stock is market rate. Not coincidentally, these same areas have been plagued by intergenerational poverty for over a half century.

Expanding opportunity is not the same as expanding access to government benefits and de Blasio's opponents should challenge him for suggesting that they are. And a murder rate that's lower than Chicago's is different from a plummeting murder rate. Nothing about New York's comeback should be taken for granted.

This piece originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report


Stephen Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of a recent report, Assisted Outpatient Treatment in New York State: The Case for Making Kendra's Law Permanent.

This piece originally appeared in U.S. News and World Report