LI salaries 15 percent more than nation's

Dr. Pearl Kamer is the chief economist for

Dr. Pearl Kamer is the chief economist for the Long Island Association. (June 24, 2010) (Credit: Michael E. Ach)

Proximity to high-paying jobs in New York City, unions and a commitment to quality public education are among the reasons a typical worker on Long Island earns 15 percent more than the national average, experts said Friday.

Jobs in Nassau and Suffolk counties pay an average of $50,850 per year, according to data collected in May 2010 by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average is $44,410.

In a report this week, bureau officials said local wages "were significantly higher than their respective national averages in 18 of the 22 major occupational groups" studied. Computer and mathematical jobs was the only category where Long Island lagged the nation.

The greatest differences were in construction and police; each group earns 33 percent more in Nassau and Suffolk than in the country as a whole. Construction wages here average $58,420, and police, $56,440, according to Michael L. Dolfman, regional commissioner of the federal Labor Department, which encompasses the bureau.

Teachers, librarians and other education workers also do better locally than nationwide. Their compensation averages $62,760, or 24 percent more.

"What this report tells you is what Long Islanders are willing to spend money on," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist at the Long Island Association business group. "We value education for our children and are willing to pay a higher wage."

She and others said area employers often pay more because they are competing with New York City businesses for the same workers. The cost of living throughout the metropolitan area is higher than the national average.

Unions also are a factor, particularly in construction, law enforcement and education, where they established a major presence in New York State decades ago and not elsewhere.

The report, issued twice a year, also shows the composition of the local workforce.

Office and administrative occupations is the largest group, accounting for almost 21 percent of total employment. Sales jobs are 11.1 percent; teachers and other educators, 8.6 percent; food preparation and restaurant work, 7.3 percent, and physicians and health care technicians, 6.3 percent.

Dolfman said the report is based on a survey of 18,158 employers.

After reviewing the data, some experts expressed concern about the low pay of local computer and mathematical workers: $74,980 or 3 percent below the national average.

"We know we need more scientists and mathematicians, and yet what this is saying is we aren't willing to pay what we need to attract them," Kamer said. "These are the people we need to build the economy of the future."

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