Many of Long Island’s 2.8 million residents enjoy a high quality of life, marked by low unemployment, low crime rates, strong public schools and infrastructure improvements, but they also contend with high taxes and home prices, and challenging commutes, according to a report on the Island’s economy released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“The number of jobs has reached a record level on Long Island and the region boasts average wages that are the second highest in the state,” DiNapoli said. “Long Island continues to be a great place to live, work and raise a family but there are challenges. This report is meant to provide useful information to Long Island residents, elected officials and community stakeholders as they continue in their efforts to make Long Island thrive.”
Long Island added 115,400 jobs between 2009 and 2018, reaching 1.3 million jobs. The unemployment rate declined to 3.7 percent in 2018 after having peaked at a post-recession high of 7.5 percent in 2010. Health care, restaurants, business services, construction and retail have driven these job gains. While growth averaged just over 1 percent annually in this ten year period, the latest data indicates slower growth in 2018.
Health care is the largest private sector employer on Long Island, accounting for nearly 17 percent of private-sector jobs (193,500). From 2009 to 2018, health care added 36,800 jobs to the region. Average wages in this sector ($64,726) are above the regional average.
The average annual wage on Long Island in 2017 was $60,084, second only to New York City. Median household incomes are higher than the state median of $62,765, too, at $105,744 for Nassau County and $92,838 for Suffolk County. However, there are pockets of both significantly higher and lower incomes within both counties.
The region has a strong agricultural sector, based in Suffolk County, which had the highest value for agricultural crops of any county in New York State in 2017. Nearly 4,000 people work in agriculture on Long Island, with production centered on nursery, greenhouse and sod products; vegetables; fruits; poultry and eggs; and aquaculture (e.g., fish, clams). Since the start of its wine industry in 1973, Long Island has become one of the state’s main grape-growing and wine-producing regions.
Most Long Islanders - 72 percent - own their homes, compared with 48 percent for the state overall. The median value of an owner-occupied home in 2017 was $460,700 in Nassau County and $379,400 in Suffolk County, much higher than the statewide median of $293,000.
Long Island homeowners pay above-average property taxes: Nassau County’s estimated median property tax bill of $14,872 is well above the state median ($8,081). Recent federal tax code changes, which capped the deductibility of state and local taxes at $10,000, increased the overall tax burden for many New Yorkers. Long Island residents are some of the most likely to be affected.
Transportation, especially commuting to and from New York City – which about one-fifth of the workforce does – is a major challenge. The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), used by 38 percent of those working in New York City, had its worst on-time performance in 18 years in 2017. Delays and cancellations impacted an estimated 9.2 million riders and cost an estimated $75 million in lost productivity. In 2018, on-time performance declined even further to 90.4 percent, the lowest since 1996.
Despite these challenges, Long Island has excellent schools, close proximity to New York City, low crime rates, shopping, cultural attractions and nature-based activities including agriculture, beaches and other recreational opportunities.
DiNapoli’s report also found that:
- The region’s population rose rapidly from less than 1 million in 1950 to more than 2.5 million in 1970. However, growth has slowed since then.
- If not for immigration, the region’s population would have contracted by 40,000 since 2010.
- The region’s local governments include four towns that have larger populations than any city in the state other than New York City. Its 96 villages include both the state’s most populous (the Village of Hempstead) and its least (Dering Harbor). Its 125 school districts likewise include eight with enrollments of less than 100 each, and two (Brentwood and Sachem) which have more students than any districts outside of the state’s five largest cities.
- Of the region’s 237 local government entities examined through the Comptroller’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System in 2018 and 2019, 14 are currently listed as being in some level of fiscal stress.
- In 2017, visitors to the region spent nearly $5.9 billion at restaurants, hotels and attractions.
- Suffolk County has experienced one of the highest rates of heroin-related overdose fatalities in New York, particularly recently. Nassau and Suffolk Counties created a Joint Heroin Task Force drawing on the resources of both counties’ police departments to combat this crisis.
- Long Island had one of the lowest crime rates of any large metropolitan area in the nation in 2017. However, there are areas where crime is a serious problem, stemming particularly from gang-related activity.
- Economic development projects include a few at proposed values of more than a billion dollars. While these projects may add to Long Island’s economic opportunities, they may also raise concerns about traffic congestion and high housing costs.
- Long Island has some of the nation’s earliest suburbs, including Levittown, in Nassau County.
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