Not only will the job losses in the city fall far short of the recession that wracked the metropolitan area in the early 1990s, economists and analysts say they will also not measure up to the losses in the shorter, shallower recession that surrounded the 9/11 attacks. Where once the projections called for employment in the city to decline by as many as 300,000 jobs, they now estimate the losses will be about 200,000.
Nobody is playing down the damage that the financial crisis has caused in the city. The unemployment rate hit 10.6 percent in December, more residents are unemployed than at any time in at least 34 years, and the city and the state are cutting services to bridge growing budget gaps.
But the primary measure of the local impact of a recession has always been how many jobs it wiped out; on that score, this recession has been significantly milder in New York than in the rest of the United States. The most closely watched forecasters now expect the city to follow the nation out of recession in the next few months without having suffered as much as other large cities in big states like California, Florida and Illinois.
“We’ve been surprised, too, that the city economy hasn’t been hit harder than it has, given that Wall Street was at the center of the financial crisis and panic,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com. “Of course, there have been lots of layoffs on Wall Street, but not nearly as significant as in past recessions.”
Mr. Zandi said he expected the job losses in the metropolitan area to end within a couple of months and to amount to less than 4 percent of the region’s total employment at the peak of the last boom. By contrast, the nation lost more than 6 percent of its jobs over the last two years.
City officials agree. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his lieutenants have been telling audiences that the recession will cost the city 100,000 fewer jobs than they had forecast a year ago.
They have also pointed to other signs that the city weathered the crisis better than the nation. Tourism fell off only slightly last year and declined much less than in some other big cities, like Chicago. Housing prices have declined less than in most other regions. Office vacancy rates, though they have doubled in the last year, are still lower than in most other large American cities.
But the key indicator, economists said, is the number of jobs lost. “The job statistics are the most timely, accurate barometer of how the economy is doing broadly at a local or regional level,” Mr. Zandi said. “If you pick almost any economic statistic — income, house prices, construction activity — it would tell the same story: New York has gotten hit, but it hasn’t gotten creamed.”
And the city appears poised to track the national recovery more closely than in the last two recessions, when the city kept losing jobs for 12 to 18 months after the nation began to recover, said Ken McCarthy, managing director of New York-area research for Cushman & Wakefield. “If there’s any lag at all,” he said, “it’s going to be three to six months.”
Why has New York fared much better than many feared?