When Bill de Blasio was running for mayor on a starkly liberal platform in 2013, some of New York’s business leaders feared the city’s economic well-being was doomed.
“There was definitely something in the ether,” said Alicia Glen, a deputy mayor whom Mr. de Blasio recruited from Wall Street. “‘The lefties are taking over.’ ‘This is not a pro-business mayor.’ ‘They’re going to ruin the economy.’ I heard a lot of that myself.”
It did not help that Mr. de Blasio was hoping to succeed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire and a darling of business elites.
But as Mr. de Blasio settles into the second half of his four-year term, the opposite has happened. Even amid national and global concerns about teetering economies, New York City has rarely been in better financial shape. Indeed, the city added more jobs in Mr. de Blasio’s first two years in office — 248,000 — than in any two-year period in the last half-century, according to data released last week by the State Labor Department.
Along with the steady increases in employment, the wages of workers in the city have risen at a fast pace over the last two years, helping them cope with the dizzying cost of living. Residential and office construction are booming. Tourism is at a high.
Of course, a roaring real estate market has left many New Yorkers struggling to pay for housing and has fed a homelessness problem that has bedeviled Mr. de Blasio.
Still, by virtually any measure, the city continues to do better than the rest of the country in rebounding from the financial crisis, economists said.
“For the first time in this recovery, workers generally are enjoying the benefits of the recovery full-on,” Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said. “In the rest of the country we’re not quite there yet.”
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, inherited a city that had already begun recovering impressively under Mr. Bloomberg, a political independent whose businesslike approach toward running New York was heralded as helping to rescue it from the depths of the recession.
As a result, Mr. de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” speeches on the campaign trail and talk of raising taxes to finance social programs frightened corporate leaders, said Kathryn S. Wylde, chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, an influential group that includes most of the city’s biggest employers.
“Contrary to fears in the business community when the mayor first took office, the city economy has continued to do very well,” Ms. Wylde said.
Mr. de Blasio still scares corporate executives with some of his liberal ideas, Ms. Wylde added, like raising the minimum wage. “But that is a matter again of occasional differences on political rhetoric and, frankly, there’s much less of that than many of them feared,” she said.
Before Mr. Bloomberg’s three terms in office, from 2002 through 2013, business leaders did not typically expect mayors to become deeply involved in economic matters beyond tending to the city’s budget, Ms. Wylde said.
“What we expect from mayors is they encourage private-sector economic activity and they don’t screw it up,” she said. Appraising Mr. de Blasio’s performance so far, she said, “It’s obvious he has not screwed it up.’’
In fact, the city has a record number of jobs (4.2 million), a record number of employed residents (four million) and attracted a record number of tourists last year (58.3 million). The share of the city’s population that is employed is at its highest level — 58 percent – in at least four decades.
In the early years of the recovery, the bulk of the hiring was in lower-paying fields like retail and health care. But it has broadened to all sectors, including Wall Street, construction and even manufacturing.
Wages too have begun to surge, said James Parrott, chief economist with the Fiscal Policy Institute, a union-backed research group, and not just for white-collar workers at the upper end of the pay spectrum. Mr. Parrott said that average wages for workers at all levels of pay had risen faster than inflation in the last two years, after being flat for the previous three years.
“This last five or six years has been the most sustained period of job growth in the city,” Mr. Parrott said. “You’d have to go back to the ’50s or early ’60s to see anything like that.”
Anthony C. Roman Jr. is one of the newest beneficiaries of the city’s growing prosperity. After months of searching for a job, he started on Friday in the marketing department of Bareburger, a fast-growing restaurant chain founded in Astoria, Queens.
Armed with a degree in food studies from the New School, Mr. Roman, 25, said he had still found it difficult to land a job because of “an oversupply of highly educated people” seeking work in his industry.
“There’s a lot of energy” in the city’s economy, but he said he would call it “not necessarily a boom, but a bloom.”
Though Mr. Roman and his fiancée, who works in finance, now have jobs that pay well, he said they each planned to continue living with their parents until their wedding.
“When you look at the financial commitment of renting,” he said, “it’s just a huge drain on any kind of hope or future that you have in the short term.”
Soaring commercial rents in the city have posed a problem for Bareburger, said Euripides Pelekanos, one of the company’s founders. Bareburger is opening restaurants as far away as Tokyo and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, but Mr. Pelekanos said he gave up looking for a location in Harlem because landlords were asking too much.
Mr. Pelekanos said he had no trouble finding students and actresses to hire as servers, but the intense competition among restaurants was making it hard to staff the kitchens. Another burger chain, he said, tried to poach Bareburger’s hostesses and cooks.
As for his sentiments about City Hall, Mr. Pelekanos said he opposed Mr. de Blasio’s push for a minimum wage as high as $15 an hour.
“I don’t think he fully understood the impact on local businesses, on small businesses,” Mr. Pelekanos said, adding that such an increase would force restaurants to raise prices and reduce staffing.
Mr. de Blasio has forged ahead, embracing the “Fight for $15” movement and promising that all city government employees would earn at least $15 an hour by the end of 2018 (the current statewide minimum is $9). Helping to raise the wages of the city’s lowest-paid residents is a priority for his administration, said Ms. Glen, who was an executive at Goldman Sachs before leaving for City Hall.
Mr. de Blasio tamped down some fears about his liberal bent last year when he overhauled the city’s corporate tax system and reduced tax rates for small businesses, Ms. Wylde said. The mayor may not have won over all of the doubters yet, Ms. Wylde said, but he had scored points with them by being “very fiscally responsible,” referring to the mayor’s budgeting process and contracts his administration had reached with unions.
Mr. de Blasio has also sought to diversify the economy and encourage job creation beyond Manhattan. Since Mr. de Blasio took office, employment has risen faster in the other boroughs as the city’s unemployment rate has steadily declined, to 5.3 percent in January, from 8 percent in January 2014.
The robust economy has helped people like Mulu Amlesom, a 36-year-old Bronx resident who bounced through a series of office jobs before returning to college to pursue a nursing degree. But after completing her studies, she said, she spent several months trying to find work at a hospital.
She was ready to leave New York before she enrolled in a training program financed by the city’s Small Business Services Department and a health care industry partnership. When Ms. Amlesom completed the training in late 2014, she was hired into a full-time position at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Manhattan that pays more than $70,000 a year.
Referring to the condominium she and her husband own in the Highbridge neighborhood, Ms. Amlesom said, “Now we can actually pay the mortgage.”