New York, NY – Today, New York City Council Speaker Adrienne E. Adams delivered an address at the Association for a Better New York’s (ABNY) Power Breakfast. In her remarks, Speaker Adams outlined some of her priorities related to expanding economic opportunity and equity. The Speaker’s remarks centered on three goals: expanding equitable workforce opportunities, supporting underrepresented and under resourced entrepreneurs and small businesses, and ensuring restorative economic opportunities.
Below are the Speaker’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you for welcoming me to today’s ABNY Power Breakfast. It’s an honor to be here with you today, joined by so many friends, business and civic leaders, and fellow New Yorkers.
Thank you, ABNY Chair Steven Rubenstein for your warm introduction and your leadership. I also want to thank ABNY Chief Executive Officer and my good friend, Melva Miller, a leader from my borough of Queens and a lifelong resident of Southeast Queens, just like me. And thank you ABNY Board members.
I also want to recognize some of my colleagues and a few distinguished guests here with us this morning, as we discuss the importance of growing our local economy and securing a strong, fair, and equitable recovery for New York City. First, I want to acknowledge my colleagues – Council Majority Leader Keith Powers, as well as Council members Erik Bottcher and Rita Joseph. Former Council Speaker Gifford Miller, the Honorable Judge J. Machelle Sweeting, and CUNY Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez, an ABNY Board member.
I am incredibly proud to stand before you today as the first Black Speaker of the New York City Council, leading not only the most diverse Council in history, but also its first women majority. When women lead and our representatives reflect the diversity of our city, everyone benefits. We bring a more holistic view to the world.
The diverse perspectives of our members are key as we focus on the City’s recovery from the pandemic, responding to the intersecting crises facing our communities. The challenges are significant and complicated, and leadership is critical at this moment in our history.
We have now entered the third year of the pandemic, which has exposed many of the fault-lines in our city’s systems. It has also widened them. The inequity in investments for certain neighborhoods, especially communities of color, is one I know only too well from my own experience living in and representing Southeast Queens. Addressing these gaps is key to the health and safety of our entire city. Whether it is the mental health crisis we face, the disparities in access to quality health care, the lack of affordable housing, education, economic opportunity, transportation, or investments in our youth and older adults. These are issues that have long impacted the residents, businesses, institutions, and visitors of New York City. The strength and well-being of our city’s communities is intrinsically linked to our safety and economy.
Our urgent attention is needed.
When we invest in ensuring all communities are strong and have the same opportunities, we can improve public safety and ensure our entire city’s success. Strong communities produce a safer city, and resources must be directed towards this goal.
As the first Council Speaker from an outer-borough in over 20 years, I have a different perspective. Equity is the lens through which I view the pathway towards progress for our city and its recovery. We need more affordable housing to provide safe, stable places to live and call home. We need better access to healthcare, something that has long eluded communities of color, particularly in the outer-boroughs. We need effective and accessible mental health solutions for New Yorkers whose well-being has deteriorated during this pandemic.
Our city’s residents and workers need better transportation access, especially within transit deserts. Our working families need affordable childcare to continue contributing to the workforce, and I am proud that our partners in state government are poised to expand childcare through smart budget investments that the Council has vocally supported.
These pressing needs are among our priorities as we seek to ensure a thriving city. All New Yorkers, no matter where you live, work, or learn, deserve to be healthy and safe, and the investments we make determine our success in reaching these goals.
At the end of the day, New York City’s greatest asset is our people – our workers, our small business owners, our innovators, our young people, and the residents across all neighborhoods. They share the greatest stake in our success, and our success hinges on them.
By investing in New Yorkers as the engine of our city, with a focus on equity, we can ensure communities are strong, as we secure a holistic recovery. That is the prerequisite to improving public safety.
In substance and tone, the workers we consider to be essential and their communities –hardest hit by the pandemic and historic underinvestment – have to be our priority.
That’s why I had such a strong opinion about the private employer vaccine exemption for celebrity athletes and performers announced last week. We can’t prioritize athletes over concession workers, firing the service worker but giving an exemption to those who’ve already attained economic success. We can’t fire the frontline city workers who sacrificed so much to protect us at the height of the pandemic, but then let the wealthy celebrity avoid the mandate.
Expanding economic opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those who have historically lacked equal access to them, is the fundamental solution to our many challenges.
It is time for a New York City economy that prioritizes true equity for all New Yorkers.
Today, there are three specific goals that I want to discuss with you, because the City needs your partnership to achieve them and succeed in our recovery and growth.
Number 1: We have to develop our workforce with a clear focus on building career pipelines for historically marginalized communities.
Number 2: We must invest in the development of our small businesses and entrepreneurial ingenuity in areas of our city that don’t often get the attention that fosters talent.
And number 3: It is time to remove the unnecessary barriers that too often block New Yorkers from opportunity and widen the inequities.
Each of these is essential.
I know from my own diverse experiences in the business and civic sectors that effective partnership with all stakeholders, driving toward these goals together, is the way forward.
PROVIDING CAREER AND WORKFORCE OPPORTUNITIES WITH EQUITY
First, I want to discuss ways to equitably develop our city’s workforce, starting with our youth.
In thriving communities, young people not only have opportunities to gain valuable early work experiences, but those often connect to future careers. It is something taken for granted in middle-and-upper class communities. Our city has not prioritized building these linkages for youth in some of the City’s most distressed and underserved communities, especially communities of color. This is an entrenched area of inequity that must receive our focus. Young people in neighborhoods like those I represent in Southeast Queens, in central Brooklyn, the Bronx, pockets of Upper and Lower Manhattan, and on Staten Island have the same talent, tenacity, and potential as those in wealthier parts of our city. What they do not have is access to the same opportunities toward building careers at an early age, where we know it can make all the difference.
That is a reality we are obligated to change, together, as a city.
The Council has long been an advocate for expanding the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which can be a vehicle for young people to start building a career. For so many, it provides some of the first opportunities to participate in the workforce and gain professional experience and skills. These are the foundation of a resume and future. The Council was proud to stand with the Mayor last month to announce the program’s expansion to reach 100,000 young people for the first time.
Yet, this should just be the beginning of our work. SYEP should be setting young people up for careers in more intentional ways, and that’s where the City’s business and civic community have an important role to play. New York is full of strong businesses and storied civic institutions. Many participate as hosts for these youth internships and are critical to SYEP’s success. Yet, we will need the participation of more diverse employers from the public and private sectors to enhance the scale and impact of the program. We also must deepen that participation, bringing focus to the important career development and mentorship roles that host employers can play in the lives of these young people. These employers, and their employees, are major assets to this program and the future careers of its youth participants – but they must be leveraged more effectively.
We know that the story of so many successful careers within an institution starts with an internship. There are members of my senior staff whose first exposure to the City Council was an internship with the body. We have to partner more closely to intentionally invest in those opportunities for more of our young people. As Speaker, I am focused on ensuring the Council is a voice for this approach, partnering with leaders of this organization and other key stakeholders to increase participation with more of our city’s major employers and strengthen these connections on behalf of our young people and their future careers. The City should also closely monitor the success of post-SYEP hiring of participants with companies, so we can monitor our progress and know where additional efforts are needed.
The Council also knows that employment programs for youth cannot only be in the summer months. That is why we are going to advocate for greater investments in year-round youth employment within the budget, especially for youth who are disconnected from our schools and other city programs. These should provide substantive work opportunities that lead to full-time employment, diverting youth away from destructive pathways and towards long-term stability. This will require a greater focus on building program infrastructure, but that is a front-end investment with positive returns for our workforce and public safety.
We must also ensure a diversity of workforce development opportunities, providing options that engage young people’s interests. This likely requires expanding programs, like Apprentice NYC which helps develop in-demand skills in high-growth occupations in Advanced Manufacturing. Pathways to Apprenticeship is another deserving program that mentors and trains New Yorkers from low-income communities, those living in public housing, and with past justice system involvement for construction union apprenticeships. Given the infusion of federal infrastructure funds coming into the City, we need to build pipelines to jobs and careers for communities that can benefit most from a focus on equity.
At the same time, the City has to make the transition from its youth employment programs to adult career and workforce development services more seamless, bridging the gap to increase their effectiveness. Part of this is intentionally increasing coordination and links, which should be a focus of the Mayor’s efforts to increase government efficiency. The civil service system could also be an asset in building bridges toward careers with the city. By pairing civil service youth employment programs with city workers, we can foster the mentorship of young people that keeps them on track for civil service careers.
Part of the strategy to strengthen our workforce must also be to replace the notorious school-to-prison pipeline with a strong school-to-profession pipeline. That starts with expanding the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in our school system to prepare students for college and/or careers in diverse industries and trades – from architecture and construction to Information Technology and everything in between. Through participation in course work and skill building, students who complete CTE programs are better prepared to make college and career decisions based on these real-world experiences. Providing our students, just like all young people, with options for their future is essential to their sustained engagement towards long-term careers. A key component to increasing the success of our CTE programs requires collaboration with the business community to expand the number of workplaces available to students. Currently, one of the program’s biggest challenges is finding workplace opportunities that can provide career mentoring and internships. That is a gap we need to close in partnership with our city’s business and civic community. Support for these efforts is key.
New York City is home to some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world. Tech companies like Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Twitter, and others; major health institutions; and so many other growth sectors. They are tremendous assets to our city. Leveraging their strength in public-private partnerships on behalf of career-building for young people in underserved communities has to be a priority. These companies’ involvement in workforce development can position our students and youth for good jobs and careers in fast-growing sectors of the economy. They can also be part of the successful expansion of the P-Tech model of our CTE program, where students access internships, curriculums, and training from these companies, while earning their high school diploma and an Associate’s Degree from CUNY. Upon graduation, students would be prepared for continued employment and careers within these companies and growth sectors.
We can expand these models with a clear focus on equity, utilizing existing infrastructures and building new ones where necessary. Let’s build on the New York City Tech Talent Pipeline to expand its reach into specific communities and schools across the city. The New York Alliance for Careers in Healthcare is another vehicle that moves young people into the healthcare sector. LifeSci NYC’s internship program that encourages youth to engage in the fast-growing life sciences industry is another important initiative that can reach into communities. Companies can expand ongoing efforts by adopting schools and CUNY colleges to train students for industry jobs, effectively becoming feeders for companies with some of the highest demand careers in the city. These are the types of opportunities our city needs to focus on leveraging to prepare more New Yorkers to share in the benefits of economic success.
At the same time, we cannot forget about the 700,000 working-age New Yorkers with some CUNY college credits, who have left without a degree. The reasons for their departure from CUNY vary – some are attending to economic and employment obligations; others are taking care of children or family members. The pandemic has only exacerbated this challenge.
According to the Center for an Urban Future, nearly 1 in 5 Black and Latino working-age New Yorkers fall into this category, and approximately 1 in 3 Black and Latina working-age women do as well. This is very much an issue of equity. The Center for an Urban Future’s report on this issue highlighted that 48 of the 50 occupations that pay an entry-level salary over $50,000 and have the highest projected growth over the next ten years, typically require a post-secondary credential.4 Yet, just 20 percent of Latino New Yorkers, 27 percent of Black New Yorkers, and 45 percent of Asian New Yorkers hold a bachelor’s degree, compared to 64 percent of white New Yorkers. Thousands are just a few courses away from an Associate’s degree or other credential that can increase their earning potential.
We need to focus efforts on these New Yorkers.
Part-time working students face significant gaps – whether it is a lack of tuition assistance, pre-enrollment counseling, flexible scheduling due to staffing challenges within CUNY, or childcare. We hope the state budget is slated to make important investments in our CUNY system to address some of this, but more support will be required either way.
This should be a priority.
Today, I am endorsing a smart investment to address this by announcing support for a CUNY Reconnect Initiative, based on the important research by the Center for an Urban Future. We must help recruit these New Yorkers back into CUNY, providing the necessary supports of financial aid, child care, pre-enrollment counseling and flexible scheduling that facilitate their success. This would provide an incredible boon for many working families who have lost advancement opportunities through no fault of their own, but often due to economic, family and health-related circumstances. These New Yorkers need targeted supports to matriculate, and we need to reconnect them to a caring base of support.
As a former student who benefited from attending CUNY’s York College, I deeply believe in our public college system and its mission as a vehicle of upward mobility. The University must remain responsive to the needs of the City’s residents, and I look forward to working with CUNY to realize this goal. The Council will be advancing efforts in the budget to invest in flexible access to CUNY that helps working people, building on existing programs, with specific supports for this population.
SUPPORTING UNDERREPRESENTED & UNDERRESOURCED ENTREPRENEURS AND SMALL BUSINESSES
Secondly, New York City’s small businesses and entrepreneurs are the backbone of our neighborhood economies. Yet, the attention, investment, and support they can access to be successful varies based on their location and who they are. Our city needs to also approach small business and entrepreneurial support through a lens of equity, ensuring Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses (MWBEs) and the entrepreneurial creativity within neighborhoods that often lack business development support, receive the attention and investment that fosters success. In fact, just this morning the New York Times highlighted the need to support entrepreneurs in our city’s public housing developments. Onerous processes that MWBEs endure to access contracts and funds have to be streamlined. For too long, there have been barriers and disincentives that block businesses run by people of color and women from opportunity. We must address these issues intentionally and in a coordinated way.
We can also do more to help local small businesses, especially those owned by New Yorkers of color, access e-commerce. During the pandemic, many small businesses and entrepreneurs innovated by bringing more of their products to online markets. But most of our city’s small businesses could not successfully replicate this shift. Although many have built loyal followings, and could really develop further success through online retail, they face the challenges of technology and prohibitive fees to access these new markets. This is where the City can step in and play a meaningful role. We can support these under-resourced businesses to make them more competitive and resilient in the digital age. By providing targeted technical support through expansion and replication of existing city and state programs, we can help many small businesses and entrepreneurs unlock business opportunities. This could benefit many community staples and immigrant-run small businesses, who have demonstrated the ability to build a dedicated customer base.
Another critical small business investment is expanding equity-focused business incubators, following the Brooklyn Navy Yard model. Over the years, the City has successfully cultivated a growing number of small businesses through this model. Recently, the Navy Yard has brought an equity focus to its successful model. These opportunities should be expanded to reach all corners of New York, with a particular focus on communities of color, immigrant entrepreneurs, and MWBEs. For too long, parts of our city have not benefitted from these investments in their ingenuity, and it is beyond time that we expanded these incubators to more remote and underinvested pockets of our city. A complementary strategy, also aligned with the Navy Yard model, would connect investors to these incubators to promote more equitable access to venture capital. In 2017, of the total amount of venture capital invested in New York City, only 9 percent went to women-owned firms, 2 percent went to Latino-owned businesses, and a measly 1 percent went to Black-owned businesses. That is a grossly missed opportunity for our city’s economy. We can do better in New York City. The opportunities for support and to connect with networks of investors that many businesses often take for granted must be a priority to expand right here in New York.
ENSURING RESTORATIVE ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES
Finally, I want to dive into the importance of removing barriers to economic opportunity that have long stood in the way of equity. If we are truly committed to balancing the scales, we must focus on investing in New Yorkers and communities that have been harmed by past policies, exclusion, and underinvestment.
The State’s forthcoming recreational marijuana program and its focus on equity is a demonstration of the approaches we need to take towards restorative economic opportunity. I applaud our state leaders for prioritizing licensing opportunities for New Yorkers impacted by the inequities in our state’s past marijuana criminal enforcement, and their families. This is a great start. Yet, equitable business opportunities here in New York City will not be secured without intentional and smart support for business development that prepares people for success. This is an approach our city needs to standardize for all emerging market opportunities – ensuring equitable results by investing in adequate business preparation support for historically harmed and marginalized small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Additionally, we know that a past criminal record is one the greatest barriers that holds people back from economic opportunities. An old record, no matter how many years old, carries thousands of barriers to economic advancement. The proliferation of these records are often the lasting result of decades of inequitable criminal justice system enforcement and policies that targeted Black communities and other marginalized communities. There are now approximately 2.3 million New Yorkers and 70 million Americans with a past record. They can be blocked from accessing employment, housing, education, and other basic economic opportunities, even years after completing their sentences. The vast majority are years beyond their record and have long been living in our communities without any further involvement in the justice system. It not only affects them, but also their children, families and communities.
The cost to our economy is also far-reaching. New York loses out on nearly $2 billion dollars in lost wages each year because of the barriers from these old legal records, and nationally, it costs the U.S. economy $87 billion dollars in lost GDP. We can no longer maintain these barriers that lock people, who would otherwise contribute at greater levels, out of the economy. Ensuring access to economic opportunities for people living with past records is an investment in our communities, improving our collective stability, well-being, and public safety. That is why I have long supported the Clean Slate Act, and am urging the state legislature to pass and the Governor to sign this important measure to automatically clear certain eligible old records.
It’s the smart approach for our safety and economy. That’s why Fortune 500 companies like JP Morgan, AT&T, Bank of America, CVS, Home Depot, and many others have been supportive of these kinds of policies as part of the Second Chance Business Coalition. Their goal is to promote the benefits of second chance employment and provide employers with the resources to hire and advance the careers of people with past records. New York’s businesses should add their voices to supporting these sensible and smart approaches for New York. When other states are advancing similar efforts in bipartisan fashion, there’s no reason for New York to undermine its economy by maintaining these barriers to employment and economic advancement.
In fact, New York City should audit all of its own economic, small business, and workforce development programs to remove any related barriers it maintains that are excessive, ensuring our local house is also in order.
The Council will continue to be a voice for eliminating barriers to economic equity and opportunity for New York City’s working families, putting forward leadership to enact solutions.
By removing hurdles and creating a more inclusive economy, we can ensure that all of our communities are healthy and thriving.
Fundamentally, I believe we must invest in New Yorkers as the drivers of our economy and our city. And when we prioritize these investments with a focus on equity, we can strengthen all communities, improving public safety in our city and securing an economic recovery for all.
None of this is possible without the partnership and collaboration of every person in this room, and outside of it. We must work together to achieve this shared goal of an equitable recovery for New York City.
With the support of our business community, civic leaders, and other key stakeholders, we can make this vision into a reality. Thank you!