Serious crime in our city has declined 38%, with a 50% reduction in the homicide rate. New York is now not only the safest it's been in over 25 years, but just about the safest large city in the United States. Deservedly, this accomplishment has received a great deal of attention in the city, nationally and internationally.
But there are other positive, fundamental changes that have taken place in the direction of the city. Changes that haven't gotten as much attention as the massive drop in crime, or the improvement of the quality of life, but that are just as important for the future prosperity and success of our city. And one of the most significant of these changes has come in the area of welfare.
Yesterday, I attended the second annual Work Experience Program Workers Recognition Ceremony, which is sponsored by Local 372, under the dynamic and creative leadership of Stanley Hill and Charlie Hughes. In the last two years, Local 372 has honored nearly 60 of New York City's best workfare participants, people who were on welfare and have now moved into permanent union jobs.
This is a major transformation from just a few years ago, when New York City had a passive philosophy about welfare. The rolls kept growing, and the charts showing projected growth soared above 1 million to 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, some people even thought as many as 1.5 million people would be on welfare in a city where the population is about seven and a half million people.
Everyone complained about it, the city politicians made excuses about the increases in the welfare rolls, but none of them actually did anything about it. Just as in many other areas, the city's politicians, or a number of them, were willing to accept the status quo as an unchangeable fact of life.
Our philosophy is different than that. We believe that improvements can be made, that positive change can occur and that New Yorkers can, and will, meet challenges better than any group of people in the world.
When our welfare reform efforts began in March of 1995, the city's welfare rolls were approaching 1.2 million people. And this was, really, absolutely the wrong direction, because nothing positive was happening for so many of these people who should have been in jobs, could have been in jobs. This was bad for the city, it was bad for the communities trapped in a cycle of dependency, and bad particularly for the people.
That is why many of the most critical parts of our reform efforts have centered on workfare, and our Work Experience Program. This initiative allows welfare recipients to contribute to their city and their society by performing work that needs to be done.
The program returns a sense of the social contract to the welfare system -- that for every right there is a duty, for every benefit an obligation.
And it gives welfare recipients the opportunity to prove to prospective employers that they are as reliable and hard-working as anyone else, and they've proven that time and time again.
We currently have about 35,000 people participating in the Work Experience Program, and over 100,000 people have moved through this program since it began.
In combination with our evaluation procedures that protect the welfare system for people who truly need it, our reforms have reduced the welfare rolls by nearly 210,000 people. Today, there are 210,000 fewer people on welfare than 22 months ago. This is the largest reduction in city history and the largest reduction in the nation.
But the really exciting thing is that all of this is happening, in large part, because of the Work Experience Program. With the addition of over 100,000 new private-sector jobs to our economy, in addition to the vision and commitment of leaders like Stanley Hill and Charlie Hughes helping to find people permanent jobs, many, many former welfare recipients have reported finding employment in the last 22 months.
This is encouraging, because I truly believe that a job is the very best social program there is. And now that social program, a job, is growing while welfare is declining. This is the direction the city has to continue to go in, and I'm very hopeful that we've made an excellent start and that we'll be able to continue it.
From Gracie Mansion, this is Mayor Rudy Giuliani.