THE BLOG

Bridging NYC's Income Inequality Gap

06/12/2013 02:47 pm ET | Updated Aug 12, 2013

I often speak about New York becoming a "Tale of Two Cities." For the wealthiest New Yorkers, these are the best of times.

The Dow Jones Industrial average recently set a new record -- breaking 15,400 for the first time in history. On the Upper East Side sits one of the nation's most expensive private homes, a 12,000 square foot $125 million penthouse. CEO pay averages an annual salary of $9.7 million -- 354 times what the average worker earns. There are even restaurants that offer diners $1,000 caviar pizza, and -- for the same price -- a "Golden Opulence" sundae for dessert.

But nearly half of all New Yorkers are at or below the poverty level. And the city's middle class isn't just shrinking -- it's in real danger of disappearing altogether.

Mayor Bloomberg has done an admirable job supplementing the dwindling financial sector by fostering the growth of our nascent tech industry. But if all we do as a city is swap one elite economy with another, we risk failing millions of New Yorkers who need good jobs to support their lives and their families. It's in creating an economy focused on jobs for the working and middle class where Mayor Bloomberg hasn't delivered. It's in this New York where the Inequality Crisis is most desperate.

To lift New Yorkers out of poverty and reduce rampant income and economic inequality, we need to overhaul and reorient the City's economic development policies. It's time to focus our efforts on middle-income job creation and on connecting the city's workforce with key industries and new firms locating here.

As step one, we should end corporate tax giveaways that cost the City roughly $250 million per year. We must also cut unneeded subsidies and initiatives like the Industrial and Commercial Abatement program. We can't afford to keep wasting taxpayer dollars on projects that aren't creating jobs, like the $130 million giveaway to Fresh Direct, which managed to extract generous new subsidies with an idle and likely baseless threat to leave the five boroughs.

We can redirect this money where it will make a real difference for working people. Let's start by restoring CUNY as our city's historical launching pad to the middle class.

We must forge new pipelines from the city's schools and workforce development programs to good-paying career paths, including training graduates of city high schools and CUNY to fill all available local nursing jobs and a majority of skilled tech jobs. The next mayor must prioritize job training and skill building if we want to prepare our youth for the jobs of the 21st Century. This would help New York firms hire locally, instead of importing engineers, nurses and other skilled workers from other cities and countries abroad.

To raise the floor for working New Yorkers, the City needs an economic policy that focuses on raising wages for all workers in the city and fostering local job growth in communities that need it the most.

We must ensure all public contracts include workforce development and quality job placements for low-income New Yorkers, especially in construction projects. We can make this happen by creating economic development hubs in every neighborhood, promoting higher wage standards and administering a new revolving loan fund to help entrepreneurs in emerging sectors -- like the nascent 3D printing industry -- to start and grow businesses on every block of our city.

The bottom line is that we can't keep fostering growth at the very top of the economic ladder while New Yorkers further down the economic ladder have nowhere to climb. A New York City that continues the economic and educational policies of the last decade cannot - and will not - be a city of neighborhoods where middle-class families can live, work, and raise their children.

Without a dramatic change of direction -- an economic policy that combats inequality and rebuilds our middle class -- generations to come will see New York as little more than a playground for the rich.

We cannot let the term "Middle Class New Yorker" to become an oxymoron. We cannot abandon our working poor. If we rise to this challenge, we can restore the promise of New York -- for our lives, and for future generations who will thrive in the city we love so much. Only then can we secure jobs for all New Yorkers -- in every neighborhood.

Learn more about de Blasio's plan to lift New Yorkers out of poverty and reduce rampant income and economic inequality: http://www.advocate.nyc.gov/jobs