New York's economy ground to a virtual halt in the last year. And for working class New Yorkers, the COVID-19 recession hit them especially hard. Tourism and hospitality work dried up. Construction jobs evaporated.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced the lifting of New York's final pandemic-related restrictions as 70% of New York adults have received at least one shot of a COVID vaccine. And Cuomo framed the day as a look-ahead for what's next in New York's economy.
"It is going to be up to us. What do we build? How quickly do we recover? How many lessons have we learned?" Cuomo said during a speech at One World Trade in lower Manhattan. "It is going to be our contribution to this city, to this state, to this country, our generation. Our most important work lies ahead."
The audience included the leaders of influential labor groups in New York who represent santiation workers, health care workers, service workers, retail employees and police and firefighters, all of whom received a plaque recognizing their members' efforts over the last year to keep basic functions going during the worst of the crisis.
Much of the speech appeared to be directed at the labor and business leaders in attendance who will be largely responsible for the big-picture efforts to revive New York's economy in the coming months and years. Cuomo listed a range of projects across New York already underway, including improvements to airports, an arena on Long Island and the project renovating Penn Station in New York City.
"Remember June 15," Cuomo said. "Remember today. Because it is the day New York rose again. We are standing in a monument to coming back better than ever before."
But there's still a lot of work left to do: New York's jobless rate in May remained higher than the rest of the country at 8.2%, though much lower when nearly one in five New Yorkers were out of work a year ago. Children who struggled with remote learning are in danger of falling behind for the long term.
“The lifting of pandemic restrictions is great news for all New Yorkers," said Justin Wilcox of the business-backed group Upstate United. "Having weathered this historic health crisis, focusing on the ongoing economic crisis must be Albany's top priority. 1.3 million New Yorkers are still unemployed, and more than one-third of small businesses remain closed since last January. It's more important than ever for leaders across the state to work together to rebuild our economy and revive our communities.”
More than 55,000 New Yorkers died during the pandemic, and as Cuomo's speech ended, it was announced the country as a whole surpassed 600,000 COVID-19 deaths.
And Cuomo himself continues to face his own personal controversies and investigations, including allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, as well as questions over how his administration counted the deaths of nursing home residents last year. Prominent Democrats have called for his resignation, though a plurality of voters, including Democrats and Black New Yorkers do not support the move.
Still, his stratospheric poll numbers reached during his widely watched news conferences in 2020 have returned to earth amid the controversies.
Cuomo's speeches and public remarks in recent weeks have been framed around a comeback theme. His speech on Tuesday concluded with Ace Frehley sining "Back in the New York Groove."
"Congratulations to New Yorkers because they are the ones who did it," he said. "We're no longer just surviving."