This kind of sustained and steady job growth is exactly what our economic policies have aimed at creating since the beginning.
Also noteworthy last month, the City's unemployment rate fell a full half point to 9.5 percent -- as big a drop in any single month as we have experienced. This is even more significant because at the same time the City's welfare rolls fell by nearly 10,000. Indeed, since early 1995, our administration has reduced the public assistance rolls by more than 290,000 -- a 25 percent overall decline. Yet over that same period, there has been only a slight increase in the unemployment rate, which measures the number of City residents who are unemployed and actively seeking work.
These figures, which are probably not surprising when you look around your neighborhood and see businesses thriving, are yet another indication that our strategies of the last three-and-a-half years have truly brought New York City's economy to life. The overriding principle behind these strategies has always been that job creation is greater than any social program, because jobs give people control over their own lives. And when people gain economic control over their lives, the city as a whole benefits.
Since 1993, the city has gained 160,000 private sector jobs. Compare that to a loss of 300,000 jobs during the previous administration and you see a city that is moving forward with a new sense of strength and confidence.
In cases like the revitalization of the Times Square area, the rejuvenation of Harlem, or the exciting renewal of Coney Island that will be underway shortly with the development of the Brooklyn Sportsplex, city government has actively contributed to New York City's growth by facilitating investment and leading the way with proactive partnerships between the public sector and the private sector.
But across the city, the real key to our growth has been making government less intrusive in business decisions, giving economic power back to the people who make and spend the money. Because the people who make and spend the money are mothers and fathers, consumers and business owners.
For too long, New York City government thought that the best way to promote citywide growth was by increasing taxes on businesses. Now we understand that giving small businesses and individuals responsibility and accountability over their own finances, without burdensome taxes, is the real path to success.
For example, when we cut the hotel occupancy tax, our occupancy rates shot up, and they are now second in the nation only to Waikiki, Hawaii. In fact, because of this increased activity, city government collected $21 million more in tax receipts after the tax rate was reduced than it did the previous year.
The same philosophy led us to eliminate the commercial rent tax in 1995 for all businesses in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island, and above 96th Street in Manhattan, and then last month to drop it for all Manhattan tenants who pay less than $100,000 per year in rent. Businesses in the city -- predominantly small businesses -- have saved an estimated $500 million due to these changes. And when they are freed of taxes, they turn that money around and invest it in their neighborhoods. That's exactly what is happening to our economy as a result of this reduction.
We are also committed to cutting taxes for consumers. That's why we have fought so hard in Albany for the opportunity to cut the sales tax on apparel. This tax hits middle and low-income families harder than anyone, because they spend a higher percentage of their income -- up to 12 percent -- on clothing. That's the definition of a regressive tax.
And we have succeeded in our campaign to eliminate the tax. Starting in 1999, the sales tax will be permanently dropped for all items of clothing under $100. As a preview of the permanent change and to make back-to-school shopping a little bit easier for parents in the City, between September 1 and 7 of this year, we will have another tax-free week on clothing purchases. The last tax-free week proved that this is a great economic boost for the city. Shoppers appreciate the relief, and store owners appreciate the chance to keep their business from going across the river to New Jersey.
New Yorkers deserve tax reductions like this one, and the City's economy needs them. When we give the people of the City the chance to thrive without being dragged down by unnecessary taxes, they respond. The latest surge in job growth is just the latest proof of that.