Long Islanders' love affair with their cars and other creature comforts helps drive competitive salaries for workers whose services underpin the suburban lifestyle.
They include upholsterers, cabinet makers and automotive technicians, according to a Newsday analysis of New York State Labor Department data. Those Long Island workers earn more money on average than their counterparts in New York City and in the Hudson Valley suburbs, which include Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Duchess, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties.
For example, entry-level automotive-service technicians and mechanics, as the state labels the occupations, earn an average of $24,640 on Long Island, compared with $21,880 in the city and $23,620 in the Hudson Valley, according to the latest wage data, which are from the second quarter of 2012. Experienced workers average $53,470 a year here, compared with $49,430 in the city and $52,780 in the Hudson Valley.
Strong talent pool here
Michael O'Hara, an automotive instructor at the Eastern Suffolk BOCES' H.B. Ward Career and Technical Center in Riverhead, said the Island has a legacy of cutting-edge automotive repair service because some Grumman mechanics, who lost their jobs when the aerospace giant began downsizing in the 1980s, opened their own auto repair shops.
"We have a good talent pool to draw from," O'Hara said.
And he says demand for technicians -- don't call them mechanics -- has risen because the computerized operations of cars make it harder for do-it-yourself repairs.
Earlier this year, two of his students won the 2013 National Automotive Technology Competition at the New York International Auto Show in Manhattan. Ryan LaFata, 18, and Casey Cotrone, 17, competed against 29 teams and won, in part, by perfectly diagnosing 20 problems in a bugged car.
There's money in books
Another occupation where pay excels on Long Island is librarian. Annual salaries average $51,300 for an entry-level position, compared with $46,070 in the city and $47,460 in the Hudson Valley. An experienced librarian here earns $83,060 on average, significantly more than the $71,250 in the city and $79,310 in the Hudson Valley.
While she thought those averages seemed high for Long Island, Jackie Thresher, director of the Nassau Library System, said it's no surprise librarians earn more here.
Thresher, who has worked in Westchester, said Long Island's public libraries pay more because they are mostly larger and better funded.
"We tend to have bigger libraries with elected trustees and voted-on budgets," she said.
She said another factor for higher salaries might be lower turnover among librarians here, compared to the city. Some librarians, she said, "spend their whole career on Long Island."
Staying on Island to work
The Island's competitiveness on wages, especially with New York City, underscores the local economy's transformation since the 1960s, when the city was the best employment option for local residents and 80 percent of workers here commuted.
Now, the reverse is true, with 80 percent of Long Islanders working locally, said Pearl Kamer, former chief economist for the Long Island Association, LI's largest business group.
Attractive wages or not, finding a job on Long Island is still challenging. Though the unemployment rate dropped to 6 percent in April, the lowest since 2008, the Island still had 88,900 unemployed workers, up from 59,200 in April 2008.
Still, certain jobs, if you can get them, pay the best in the region. Some others that pay more on average on the Island include chiropractors, child care workers and medical transcriptionists.
To be sure, many jobs pay a lot less here than elsewhere. For high-paying ones such as financial and credit analysts, loan officers and economists, employers in New York City pay more. After all, it isn't called the financial capital of the world for nothing.