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NEWS from the Office of the New York State Comptroller
Contact: Press Office 518-474-4015

State Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Jamaica Economic Snapshot

Population, Businesses and Household Income on the Rise

September 21, 2016

The population, number of businesses and household incomes in the Greater Jamaica area in Queens are increasing at a rapid pace, according to a report released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. 

“The Greater Jamaica area is undergoing significant demographic and economic changes,” said DiNapoli. “With one of the most extensive transportation networks of any neighborhood in the city, Jamaica is attracting new residents and businesses. New projects are underway that will create job opportunities for area residents and increase the number of affordable housing units. Jamaica is an evolving neighborhood and we hope our report will provide some insight to those shaping its future.”

“Jamaica is a community on the move and is well-positioned for even further growth,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “Comptroller DiNapoli’s economic snapshot of Jamaica contains vital information that will help policymakers guide Jamaica’s growth in ways that will maximize the benefits seen by neighborhood residents. State Comptroller DiNapoli should be commended for producing this comprehensive and informative report.”

“We must continue to build a Jamaica that works for working families,” said State Senator Leroy Comrie. “State Comptroller DiNapoli’s snapshot is encouraging—and we have come a long way since the recession—but we cannot relent in our efforts to bring stable, well-paying jobs to Jamaica and ensure that homeowners throughout Southeast Queens are being treated fairly by their lenders.”

“Our community is making significant progress and I’m committed to bringing the resources necessary for Jamaica to thrive,” said Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman. “Now we must focus on ensuring Jamaica is developed responsibly through community input and avoiding the pitfalls of new development such as gentrification or unaffordable rents. I look forward to working with State Comptroller DiNapoli to achieve these goals.”

“More and more New Yorkers are realizing that the Greater Jamaica area is an excellent place to live, work, and raise a family” said Assemblymember David Weprin. “I applaud New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for recognizing the vitality of our growing Southeast Queens community and for issuing this comprehensive economic snapshot on Jamaica.”

“For over 200 years Jamaica has always been one of the important commercial and transportation hubs in New York City,” said Queens Economic Development Corporation executive director Seth Bornstein.  “This report demonstrates that it has a bright future — one that will improve the economy for generations to come."

"Comptroller DiNapoli has confirmed what we've been seeing everyday in Jamaica, that this neighborhood is going through a revitalization that rivals any place in the country," said Hope Knight, president and CEO of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation. "The 5.1 million square feet of development activity in the pipeline will create tremendous opportunities for the people who live and work in southeast Queens and the region."

“This is an exciting time for Jamaica as it is undergoing an urban renaissance and continues to grow as a destination for commerce, community and culture,” said Rhonda Binda, executive director of the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District. “We are well poised for new businesses to locate to meet the demands of the increase in population and the growing average incomes. In fact, it is no surprise that Jamaica is home to one of the 100 fastest growing urban businesses in America as rated by Fortune Magazine. The vibrancy of the neighborhood is palpable and there is no doubt that we are on an upward swing.”

“For over 40 years, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) has served as a vital resource that adds to the economic and cultural landscape of Downtown Jamaica,” says Cathy Hung, JCAL’s executive director. “We are excited about the growth and potential that will help expand our reach to growing diverse populations.”

"Families in southeast Queens invest heavily in education,” said Isa Abdur-Rahman, Esq., executive director of the Farmers Boulevard Community Development Corp. “We make all sorts of sacrifices to ensure that our family members reach educational heights.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Greater Jamaica area is poised to attract top employers that are looking to hire the best and brightest minds."

Jamaica is the second most-populated neighborhood in the city with a population of 251,000 residents. Much of the neighborhood’s population growth over the past three decades has been driven by immigration. In 2014, immigrants made up 41 percent of the population compared to just 18 percent in 1980. Nearly half of the immigrants hail from the Caribbean, and the area has the largest Jamaican population (24,200) in the city. Asians are the fastest-growing segment of the population.

The number of businesses increased by 39 percent over a 20-year period to 4,298 in 2014, much faster than the growth rate in the city overall (27 percent). This growth was driven by several major sectors, including social assistance (216 percent), business services (135 percent), food services (114 percent) and hotels (100 percent). 

Although the area has not yet recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession and from the closure of two area hospitals, job growth has picked up over the past two years. The number of private sector jobs averaged 46,400 in 2015 and was approaching the pre-recession level by the end of the year. Given Jamaica’s close proximity to John F. Kennedy Airport, the concentration of transportation and warehousing jobs (12 percent) is four times higher than the citywide average.

The median household income in the Greater Jamaica area increased by 11 percent in 2015, twice as fast as the city overall. Household income reached $58,315, surpassing the citywide median. As incomes have grown, the share of households living below the federal poverty level has declined from 17.6 percent in 2010 to 13.1 percent in 2015, which was lower than the citywide rate (19.1 percent).

Although the number of rental units increased by 14 percent between 2002 and 2014, affordable housing remains a challenge as in many neighborhoods across the city. The median monthly rent in Jamaica increased by 82 percent during this period, while household income increased by only 26 percent. 

An earlier report by DiNapoli found that more than half of the mortgages issued in Jamaica in 2006 were subprime. Problems stemming from the foreclosure crisis, such as abandoned houses, still remain.

The report also found that:

  • The social services sector is the largest employer, accounting for one-fifth of the jobs (9,250).
  • Despite the closure of two hospitals in the area, the health care sector was the second largest employer, accounting for 15 percent of the jobs (7,100).
  • Jamaica is known for its retail corridors and this sector accounted for 13 percent of the jobs.
  • A number of significant public sector employers, such as York College and the Queens Central Library, are located in the area.
  • Educational attainment has improved significantly. The share of residents aged 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher grew six percentage points between 2005 and 2014 to 22 percent.
  • Jamaica residents had the second-highest commute time (50 minutes in 2014) among the city’s 55 U.S. Census-defined neighborhoods. Nearly 43 percent had commute times of more than one hour.
  • Nearly one-third of the residents faced a severe rent burden, devoting more than half of their household income to rent.
  • The Long Island Rail Road’s Jamaica Station is one of the busiest in the nation with weekday ridership exceeding 200,000 passengers.
  • The AirTrain, which connects Jamaica to the JFK airport, carried 7.1 million passengers in 2015.
  • Serious crime is down 80 percent since 1990, but remains a concern. 

See “An Economic Snapshot of the Greater Jamaica Area” or go to