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Ten Years Later: A Q&A With David R. Jones, President and CEO, Community Service Society of New York

September 09, 2011

When we last spoke with David Jones, president and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York, in December 2002, the New York City economy had, in his words, come "unglued." As we noted then, the city lost 83,000 actual jobs and more than 60,000 that would have been created had the attacks not occurred, with job losses spread evenly over a range of industries, including financial services, aviation, apparel manufacturing, retailing, and tourism. Estimates of the negative impact on the city's economic output ranged from $20 billion to $39 billion. And, of course, the toll in human terms was incalculable.

David_jones_css Earlier this month, we reached out to Jones to get his views on whether New York City had recovered economically from 9/11, what had happened to the "gentler, kinder" New York of the immediate post-9/11 period, and whether he thought New York was still seen as a gateway to opportunity by the poor, the persecuted, and the downtrodden.

This is the third in our series of Q&As with executives and thought leaders in the field about the meaning and impact of 9/11. (Click here for the first, with Gordon J. Campbell, president/CEO, United Way of New York City, and here for the second, with Lorie Slutsky, president, New York Community Trust.) Check back over the weekend for additional 9/11 reflections.

Philanthropy News Digest: Has New York City recovered from the economic impact of 9/11?

David Jones: Perhaps we have recovered somewhat psychologically, although the tenth anniversary will inevitably bring back bad memories. Economically, it depends on who we are talking about. The poverty rate in New York City is higher today than ten years ago. There are more people working, but there are also more people living in poverty. In fact, a large portion of the poor are the working poor, those who toil in low-wage jobs with little or no job benefits. And long-term unemployment is endemic today among people of color, especially young people. A recent CSS report revealed that in the eighteen-month period from January 2009 to June 2010 a third of black men in New York City between the ages of 16 to 24 were unemployed. And over 50 percent of young black men without a high school diploma were jobless. This in a city where the rate of success on the GED was abysmal -- less than half taking the exam passed -- and little more than half of black youth graduate from our public high schools. All of this has a detrimental impact on the city's economy -- and on our quality of life.

PND: In the weeks and months after the attacks, residents of the city seemed to see their fellow New Yorkers in a new, more sympathetic light. Have we lost the connection to that kinder, gentler New York?

DJ: I think that when disaster strikes, New Yorkers pull together. We saw it when Irene threatened the city last month. After 9/11, using our portion of a special Neediest Cases drive in 2001, CSS provided about $5 million in aid to about two thousand families who lost loved ones, jobs, or homes. That may not be true in everyday life. Public officials and the media don't often focus on the problems of the city's most vulnerable populations. They talk about "shared pain" in hard times, but budgets are still balanced on the backs of the poor. This is why the annual New York Times Neediest Cases stories are so important. They give a public stage to New Yorkers who are striving to better themselves in often-desperate situations. We should be more inclusive as a society. Poor New Yorkers should not have to worry about losing their jobs or their family health insurance every time there's an economic downturn.

PND: The city has received its share of economic and psychological blows over the last decade. Yet a new study by Crain's New York finds that more people call the city home than ever and that New York is within 56,300 jobs of its 1969 employment peak. Is New York still a gateway to opportunity for the poor, the persecuted, and the downtrodden?

DJ: To a certain extent. But over the past several decades, economic mobility -- the idea that with hard work you can rise from the working poor to the middle class, a historically American ideal -- is no longer widely true. In fact, this latest recession has caused many black and Latino families who reached the middle class in terms of family income because of the boom times of the 1990s to fall back economically. It is not just a question of the number of jobs. NYC has been producing jobs lately, but they are overwhelmingly low-wage, dead-end jobs, with little or no opportunity for advancement.

PND: What can philanthropy do to help the city, and the country, live up to that ideal?

DJ: There was a time when philanthropy meant providing resources to the poor. But the tax code has been manipulated to the point where much that is called charity now goes to places and institutions that would never qualify as needy -- universities with billion-dollar endowments, museums, performing arts organizations -- places that the wealthy enjoy and support. Also, many foundations that provide philanthropic support are characterized by boards that usually consist of upper class white men who have little understanding of or connection to the real poverty that still exists in the city. Foundations have a responsibility to provide long-term support for issues like employment, wages, and poverty. That's not happening.

-- The Editors

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