Census data show LIers struggling financially

Fidencio Rivera and Luis Garcia from Greenport stroll Fidencio Rivera and Luis Garcia from Greenport stroll down Front Street in the Village of Greenport. (Dec. 11, 2010) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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The latest census data for Long Island paint a picture of an area with a highly educated workforce grappling with stagnant household income and an employment market increasingly dominated by lower-paying jobs.

In Nassau County, an average 41 percent of residents age 25 or older had a bachelor's degree or more between 2005 to 2009, a jump from 35.4 percent in 2000, according to the Census Bureau's first American Community Survey released Tuesday. In the same five-year span, 32 percent of Suffolk residents 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or better, compared with 27.3 percent in 2000. Both counties fared better than the nation's 28 percent in 2005 to 2009.

Martin Cantor, director of Dowling College's Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute in Oakdale who studies demographic data, concludes: "That means that immigrants . . . have accessed education and that is very important."

Income on Long Island didn't rise accordingly. Between 2005 and 2009, median household income in Nassau was $92,450, down slightly from $92,756 in 2000, when adjusted for inflation, according to the survey. Suffolk's median household income was $84,530, slightly above the inflation-adjusted $84,074 in 2000. The income figures before adjusting for inflation are $72,030 for Nassau and $65,288 for Suffolk.

Wages lost ground, Cantor said, because in the last decade they grew just an average 1 percent, while expenses, including such things as education, taxes and energy, ballooned 30 percent.

The community survey, a five-year profile of 670,000 U.S. localities, averages data, and as the first of its kind, has no direct comparisons. So the full effect of the recession, which officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009, doesn't show up. Still, the averages provide a valuable look back at how the economic strength of the first part of the decade cushioned the fall of the second half, Cantor said.

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"Had there not been reasonably good times in the mid-decade, the economy could very well have fallen into a depression, and more people would have lost their homes," he said.

The survey also shows that the educational-services and health-care sector, the category noted for a high number of lower-wage jobs like home-health aides, is the dominant industry in both counties, employing about a quarter of the workforce. While that conflicts with state Labor Department data, numbers from both groups indicate that the category has been the fastest growing.

Martin Melkonian, economics professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, said the data indicate the need to step up job growth in higher-earning sectors areas such as technology.

"We've got to develop in those areas where the average income is much greater," he said.

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