Economic recovery still elusive on LI

Win Goldman stands in front of his now Win Goldman stands in front of his now closed family business, Goldman Bros. in Hicksville. The store closed last year because of declining sales due to the recession. (Oct. 26, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

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What economic recovery?

Long Island is in a prolonged downturn that is sapping personal income, jobs, growth and consumer confidence.

The number of homeowners 90 days or more behind on mortgage payments has increased by one-third in the past two years to 10 percent. That compares with 7.5 percent for New York State, according to real estate research firm CoreLogic.

Welfare rolls in Nassau and Suffolk counties have swelled 40 percent since 2009, state figures show, even as they rose less than 1 percent in New York City.

And while New York State has added tens of thousands of jobs in the last 12 months, Long Island has lost nearly 13,000 during the same period.

Despite a stronger U.S. economy in the third quarter and a stock market surge this month, there is little to indicate that the Island's fortunes will turn around soon.

"The recession never really ended here," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist at the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group.

A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of falling production of goods and services in the country. The National Bureau of Economic Research determined the recent recession, which began in December 2007, was over in June 2009 as production finally rose again.

But fallout from the most serious economic calamity since the Great Depression -- the U.S. banking system almost collapsed, millions of people lost their homes and the nation's jobless rate climbed to 10.1 percent -- is still being felt across Nassau and Suffolk.

Kamer and others said a complete recovery -- with full employment and a revived housing market -- will take years.

"Anybody who tells you this can be fixed in two or three years is probably wrong," Kamer said. "It will take at least a decade."

Long Island does have strengths. Nassau is the state's third wealthiest county, behind Manhattan and Westchester, and Suffolk ranks fifth. The Island is home to a well-educated workforce, and colleges and research laboratories. And some high-end restaurants and retailers are doing brisk business. However, the cost of living and taxes are high, posing challenges for employers and workers.

 

Way of life changing

A key element in the persistence of the tough economy is the loss of thousands of defense industry jobs. The former Grumman Corp., once the Island's largest private employer, cut more than 21,000 jobs in the 10 years through 1996, for instance. Those jobs had provided a reliable buffer against ill fiscal winds.

Government is now the dominant employer, with payrolls totaling nearly 194,000 people last month. Recent layoffs of thousands of teachers and other civil servants have undermined economic growth.

A high level of home ownership -- 83 percent in both Nassau and Suffolk, according to census data -- used to be another economic bulwark. Now it makes residents vulnerable as home values fall, upkeep and energy costs rise and mortgage debt chokes spending.

Fewer Long Islanders are moving than in past years, census data show, because of trouble selling their homes and the weak job market. One in four households moved into their current homes between 2005 and 2010, versus almost one in three in the five years preceding the 1990 and 2000 census reports.

The economic stress is wearing on people. In a quarterly Siena College Research Institute poll, where a rating of 75 means consumers are neither optimistic nor pessimistic, Long Island most recently scored 61.8, down from 68.2 at the recession's end in the summer of 2009.

Nick Puccio of Wantagh has been out of work since 2008 when he lost a trading job at the asset management firm Neuberger Berman in Manhattan, a remnant of the defunct Lehman Brothers investment house.

 

'Just about tapped out'

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Puccio, 52, said in an interview that he has "just about tapped out" his 401(k) retirement savings to pay bills. He has applied for Social Security disability assistance because, he said, his health is failing. "I don't know about anybody else, but I am in a depression mentally and financially."

Puccio and his wife, who are featured in a forthcoming HBO documentary about Long Island's economic ills, are about a year behind in paying their mortgage, and they expect to go into foreclosure.

Puccio is one of many looking for work. In September, compared with a year earlier, Long Island had 12,800 fewer jobs, the worst performance of any New York region, according to the state Labor Department.

In recent years, about 80 percent of Long Islanders have worked in either Nassau or Suffolk rather than commute to Manhattan. That's a significant increase from past decades.

The tight job market is hurting residents' earnings.

Citing census figures, Seth Forman, chief planner at the Long Island Regional Planning Council, said per capita income here, adjusted for inflation, fell 5.8 percent to $36,940 between 2008 and last year. Still, Nassau-Suffolk is faring better than the nation as a whole, where per capita income fell 8 percent, to $26,059, in the same period.

Coping with reduced incomes, many shoppers are opening their wallets less frequently, leading businesses to close. Hicksville's Goldman Bros., a retailer of athletic gear, shut last year after 71 years in business because sales dropped about 25 percent from a peak of $8 million per year before the recession.

 

Fighting just to survive

"We couldn't cut our fixed expenses" enough to survive, owner Win Goldman said.

Social service groups report serving more people who have never before been poor. "I've never seen it like this, and I have worked here for 28 years," said Ann Moran-Smith, executive director at Coram-based Smith Haven Ministries, whose services include counseling and a food pantry.

A total of 35,529 Long Islanders, from a total population of 2.8 million, received public assistance in July, up 40 percent since 2009, according to the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

"Economists' textbook formulas about when a recession starts and ends are utterly irrelevant to the reality of the population," said Gregory Blass, Suffolk County commissioner of social services. "Things are getting worse."

Experts said Long Island is going through a fundamental change.

"Suburbs are poorer and with growing pockets of poverty that we never saw a generation or two ago," said Lawrence C. Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies. "These aren't your mother and father's suburbs."

 

Signs of economic struggle on LI

JOBS

The number of Long Island jobs declined year over year in each of the past five months, but New York State saw an increase year over year in the same period.

On Long Island, the total number of jobs from May to September was lower in 2011 than 2010. The Island had 12,800 fewer jobs this September than last September.

In New York State, the total number of jobs from May to September was higher in 2011 than 2010. The state had 90,400 more jobs this September than last September.

MORTGAGE DELINQUENCIES: Long Islanders who were 90 days or more late on payments

July 2009 (post-recession): 7.5 percent

July 2011: 10 percent

WELFARE: Long Islanders receiving assistance

July 2009 (post-recession): 25,089

July 2011: 35,529

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