Monthly housing costs rose at the end of the last decade, while Long Islanders' household incomes dipped, new census data show.
This squeeze presents a hurdle for the region's difficult economic recovery. Housing costs measured in the date include mortgage, rent, insurance, taxes and utilities.
The American Community Survey, which covers 2008 to 2010, showed Nassau's median household income dropped 0.14 percent to $93,448 from the preceding survey, which covered 2006 to 2008. But the median monthly housing cost rose 2.65 percent to $2,094.
In Suffolk, the $84,235 median household income was a drop of 0.63 percent, data show, and the median housing cost went up 0.82 percent to $1,960.
"That means less money for disposable income, which means our retail sales will continue to be flat, which means sales tax projections are going to be off at the county level," said Kevin Law, head of the Long Island Association, a business advocacy group.
For those with mortgages, rising housing costs outweighed potential tax benefits from falling property values and refinancing with record-low interest rates.
Rents went up, as 44.8 percent of Nassau renters reported paying more than $1,500 monthly, up about two percentage points from the preceding survey, the census said.
In Suffolk, 43.7 percent of renters paid more than $1,500, up almost one percentage point.
The bursting of the real estate bubble in 2008 "hasn't provided a measure of comfort or cushion for most households," said Seth Forman, chief planner for the Long Island Regional Planning Council.
Weakened household income reflects high unemployment and people leaving the labor force for education or training, experts said.
Robert O'Neill, 22, will leave Centereach soon with his fiancee and baby son for Canton, Ga.
He rents part of a house, and this year rent went from $1,250 to $1,950, he said. He now has three jobs, which bring in $2,600 a month, barely enough to also cover utilities.
"I don't even get to see the kid," O'Neill said. "I go home, go to sleep, give him a kiss on the head and go to work."
In Georgia he'll work for his uncle's construction business for $18 an hour. "Everything is cheaper there," he said.