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The state of New York at the end of the 20th century


New York today
New York today

From 1950 to 1970, New York’s population increased by about 3.4 million to a total of 18.2 million. It was the nation’s most populous state until the 1960s, when California surpassed it. During the 1970s, the population of New York declined by more than 680,000, as residents moved to other regions of the country that offered better economic opportunities. The state’s major cities, including New York City, were hardest hit, as residents moved to the suburbs, a trend that began after World War II (1939-1945). By the early 1980s, suburban New York City was home to more than 25 percent of the state’s population, which by 2000 had rebounded to nearly 19 million. As the suburbs grew, the urban population became more heavily black and Puerto Rican. Chronically high unemployment and a series of social problems, such as rising crime rates, emerged as major concerns by the 1980s. Federal and state welfare programs became a lifeline for the cities’ poorest residents, but the price was higher taxes as benefits were raised to keep people above the poverty level.

Behind the state’s growing social problems was New York’s economic transformation. Like other Eastern and Midwestern states in the “Rust Belt,” New York saw its old industrial base shrink in the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1972 and 1987, jobs in manufacturing decreased by nearly 500,000.

Industries such as steel, clothing, leather, and printing declined dramatically as demand for goods fell and some companies moved to more favorable Sun Belt locations. Expansion in service, retailing, and communications only partially filled the gap, with jobs that usually paid lower wages and did not offer the benefits and security that union organization had won for workers in the older industries.

Union membership dropped across the state, and by the early 1980s more public employees belonged to unions than did workers in the private sector. Large corporations laid off many workers, adding to the economic dislocation in New York State. New York’s political leaders had to grapple with the state’s social and economic problems.

Democratic Governor Hugh L. Carey, who succeeded Rockefeller in 1973, faced a financial crisis in state and local government. Only emergency aid from federal and state governments, organized by Carey’s administration, prevented the bankruptcy of New York City, Yonkers, and several state agencies in 1975 and 1976. Carey pursued other policies designed to adjust the tax structure, encourage business investment, and stimulate the state’s economy. At the same time, he kept intact New York’s safety net of programs to help the poor and the unemployed. To combat crime, he sponsored a law in 1978 that increased penalties for violent crimes and provided that older juveniles accused of serious crimes would be tried in adult courts.

Governor Mario Cuomo (1983-1995) continued the Democratic Party’s liberal tradition on social welfare and tried to stabilize and expand the state’s economy. He also supported and won bond issues to maintain and repair New York’s infrastructure. But Cuomo was weakened politically by rising crime rates, increasing welfare costs, taxes that many residents felt were too high, and lagging business investment. A phased-in tax cut could not be completed as scheduled because of growing state deficits. In 1994 Cuomo was defeated in his bid for a fourth term by Republican George Pataki, a fiscal conservative and proponent of smaller government. Pataki immediately announced a program to trim the state’s bureaucracy and regulatory functions, begin tax cuts, and improve New York’s business climate.

In 1995 he approved a bill that restored the death penalty for certain crimes, similar to legislation Carey and Cuomo had vetoed repeatedly. Pataki resolved to reduce the share of state financing for public higher education and advocated the reorganization of the State University of New York. By 2001 crime had been dramatically reduced, and the population of the state was again on the rise.

On September 11, 2001, New York City became the site of a devastating terrorist attack (see September 11 Attacks). Two hijacked passenger jets crashed into the 110-story twin towers of the World Trade Center, located in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district. As people evacuated the buildings, both towers collapsed completely, killing thousands. The same morning, another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C., and a fourth hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania. About 3,000 people were killed in the terrorist attacks, which were the deadliest in United States history.

Pataki did not seek a fourth term as governor in 2006. Voters elected Democrat Eliot Spitzer, attorney general of New York, as the next governor. Spitzer pledged to fund development projects in an effort to reverse the economic decline of cities in upstate New York, but his administration ended abruptly in March 2008 after he was implicated in a prostitution scandal. It was the first time since 1913 that a New York governor was forced to resign. Spitzer was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor David A. Paterson, who became the state’s first black governor. "New York" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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