Status Report On Bill de Blasio's Efforts To End Income Inequality In New York

Bill de Blasio — the guy currently languishing at the bottom of the polls among the Democratic candidates for President — was first elected Mayor of New York City on November 5, 2013. In a post on November 11, 2013, a few days after that election, I congratulated Mr. de Blasio on winning the office; but I had this comment:

[H]e seems to think he can solve problems that have defeated all of his predecessors and that are very likely beyond the competence of any government, let alone local government, to solve.

At the top of the list of such problems “very likely beyond the competence of any government to solve” was the problem of income inequality. It may be fading from memory today, but de Blasio had made addressing income inequality in New York City the most important focus of his campaign. During the campaign, he had frequently called income inequality “the defining challenge of our time,” and had claimed that life in New York under his two (Republican) predecessors (Giuliani and Bloomberg) had degenerated into a “tale of two cities,” one rich and the other poor. In his victory speech on the night of his election, de Blasio re-emphasized his theme of ending income inequality:

That inequality, that feeling of a few doing very well while so many slip further behind — that is the defining challenge of our time. . . . But the challenge today is different. The creeping specter of inequality must be confronted, and will not weaken our resolve.

So, in my November 2013 post I posed the basic question to the new Mayor: “What exactly do you propose to do about income inequality?” In that post, I went through four different proposals for addressing income inequality that had come up during the campaign (higher taxes on “the rich,” more in-kind distributions to “the poor,” more unionization of the workforce, and a higher minimum wage), and expressed the view that, even if fully implemented, none of them would likely have any noticeable effect on income inequality as measured. In a further post on January 22, 2014, shortly after de Blasio took office, I further addressed another of de Blasio’s proposed fixes for income inequality, namely a major expansion of pre-K education. My comment:

[A]m I the only one to whom it seems like universal pre-K is an extremely odd way of addressing income inequality? Even assuming that the pre-K education transforms large numbers of beneficiaries from non-earners to middle-class earners, that will only happen at a minimum about 20 years from now, and even if existing term limits are lifted, de Blasio will never last that long. So there's literally no possibility of this program leading to any improvement in the income inequality statistics during his tenure.

We’re now close to 6 years into de Blasio’s term as Mayor. Can we check on what is happening with regard to measured income inequality?

A guy named Alex Armlovich at the Manhattan Institute helpfully is just out with his annual scorecard titled “Poverty and Progress in New York XIII: the de Blasio Years.” One of the categories covered is income inequality, as measured by the so-called “Gini coefficient.” The result:

Household income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, was essentially flat, at 0.5504 in 2017 (the latest year for which data are available). Inequality is up slightly since Mayor de Blasio took office in 2014—but not by much. The key point is that income inequality has not declined.

(Emphasis added.) And yet, there was Bill on August 29 addressing questions from voters in New Hampshire. According to WMUR here:

The New York mayor made his case for taking a more activist approach to government in order to reduce income inequality.

Sure Bill — this time it’s really going to work.

Amlovich’s report only goes up through 2017 data; the 2018 data from the Census Bureau are due out later this month. Any bets on whether there will be a material decline in income inequality in New York?

Meanwhile, the Gini coefficient for the U.S. as a whole is more like 0.48 — well below the figure of about 0.55 for New York City. Of course it is. Everybody who follows the subject knows that progressive income redistribution policies make income inequality greater, not less.