Data: Teachers form LI's largest workforce; more than 88 percent are white

Allison Yablon, a kindergarten teacher at Cantiauge Elementary Allison Yablon, a kindergarten teacher at Cantiauge Elementary School in Jericho, works on counting skills with her student Zain Altaf, 5, during "center-time" at the end of the school day. (Dec. 08, 2012) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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The U.S. Census Bureau's latest workforce data show that teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade in Nassau and Suffolk counties outnumber workers in any other occupation on Long Island, and more than 88 percent of them are white.

Among the top 10 jobs with the most workers, the only grouping in which minorities comprise the majority Islandwide is the nursing, psychiatric and home health aide category, the census statistics show. In that category, 52.9 percent of the workers were black and 15.7 percent were Hispanic.

Overall, the "worksite" employment data for Nassau and Suffolk show that whites are predominant in higher-skilled, higher-wage jobs, sometimes in percentages exceeding their share of the population and the labor force. Minorities are found in greater percentages than their share of the population and workforce in some lower-skilled, lower-wage jobs.

The census data, called the Equal Employment Opportunity Tabulation, is produced for several federal agencies responsible for monitoring employment practices and enforcing civil rights laws for the nation's workforce. It comes from five-year estimates of the bureau's American Community Survey, covering 2006 through 2010. The statistics on the workforce's racial, ethnic and gender composition are compiled once every 10 years, and this is the fifth tabulation conducted since the 1970s.

 

Tailoring programs

 

The racial differences in Long Island's employment picture are a phenomenon nationally as well, said Christopher Niedt, academic director of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies and a sociology professor.

"On Long Island, as in other parts of the country, there is a polarization of the job market," Niedt said, driven in large part by the decline in manufacturing jobs here and elsewhere and the rise of a service-based economy.

"There are high-wage jobs and a large number of low-wage jobs, and the high-wage jobs tend to require high levels of education," he said. "Due to that shift, the educational disparities we see on Long Island and across the country become more and more important," and may be a factor that helps explain the stark differences in the types of jobs the Island's whites and minorities have.

The bureau's data are separated into several racial and ethnic categories, including non-Hispanic whites, Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, other Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians. Some of the differentiation is meant to more accurately gauge the Hispanic population.

 

'Diversity is essential'

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The jobs data for Nassau and Suffolk show K-12 teachers rank first in each county among the 10 job categories with the most workers, with more than 27,000 in each county. Of the total, elementary and middle school teachers are the most numerous, with about 18,000 in each county.

The data -- with the percentage of white teachers in grades K-12 higher than the national average -- particularly underscore long-standing concerns among local school leaders and others about the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among teachers on the Island.

"This has been an ongoing concern among superintendents for years," said Alan Groveman, superintendent of Connetquot schools and immediate past president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

"We've made efforts to recruit at city universities, city colleges, from upstate, out of state," he said. "It's very difficult to get people who aren't born and raised on Long Island to move out to the Island for a single teaching position."

The Island's high cost of living and lack of affordable housing pose the primary challenges to successful teacher recruitment, he said.

A teaching corps that is racially and ethnically diverse is desirable, several superintendents agreed.

"I think diversity is essential, not only for students to have the opportunity to learn with all different types of educators, but it's more reflective of the world they're going to enter," Roosevelt schools Superintendent Robert-Wayne Harris said.

About 87 percent of teachers in Nassau and 90 percent in Suffolk are non-Hispanic whites, according to Newsday's analysis. The teacher breakdown in other racial and ethnic categories is: blacks, 5.2 percent in Nassau and 1.8 percent in Suffolk; Hispanic whites, 3.5 percent in Nassau and 4.7 percent in Suffolk; other Hispanics, 1.9 percent in Nassau and 2.4 percent in Suffolk; and Asians, 1.4 percent in Nassau and 0.4 percent in Suffolk.

Non-Hispanic whites were 69 percent of the Island's 2.83 million people in the 2010 Census, and Hispanics were 15.6 percent, blacks 9.3 percent and Asians 5.4 percent.

Nationally, 79 percent of K-12 teachers are non-Hispanic white, 9.3 percent are black, 5.2 percent are Hispanic white, 2.6 percent are other Hispanic, and 2.2 percent are Asian, according to Newsday's analysis of the Census Bureau's data.

Niedt, the Hofstra professor, said one reason for racial employment differences is educational inequities.

"As a result, we see students who are disadvantaged by race or class have a harder time getting the educational quality they need to get those high-wage service jobs," he said. "Over the long term, that produces the results you're seeing in the census."

 

Health aide workers

 

Hispanic health aides comprise nearly 16 percent in each county when totals for "Hispanic whites" and "other Hispanics" are combined.

Nationally, blacks comprise just over 32 percent of health aide workers countrywide, compared with nearly 48 percent who are white.

Polly Henry of Amityville is a certified nursing assistant at the Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation in Woodbury.

Henry, 55, said she got into the field because of her "love of taking care of people." She comes from the island nation of Jamaica, where she said it is part of the "work culture, where we took care of the elderly. . . . We grew up with that love and caring of elderly people."

Henry, who said she became an American citizen in 2009, is a delegate in 1199 SEIU, the health-care workers union. She said she has noticed that most of the aide workers in her facility are black like herself.

As she wrestles with two dreams, advancing in the nursing field or pursuing politics -- she recently returned from a union lobbying trip to Congress -- Henry is certain about one thing: Union representation has helped "those of us at the bottom of the health-care ladder to succeed," noting the wages, health benefits and educational opportunities that have resulted.

Teachers Allison Yablon and Susan DeRosa are propelled by a love for their profession, and the potential to help inspire and mold young lives.

Yablon, 39, a kindergarten teacher at Cantiague Elementary School in the Jericho school district, is glad to be among the large cadre of teachers on Long Island.

Teaching, Yablon said, is "a labor of love. I consider myself part of a fortunate group of people that have this privilege. I also think it's one of the most difficult professions."

DeRosa, 40, teaches fourth grade at William S. Covert Elementary School in South Hempstead, part of the Rockville Centre school district. Her goal is to "inspire them to be lifelong learners, to love reading and see that they could learn anything if they put their mind to it."

 

Recruitment efforts

As for the dominance of whites in the teaching profession on Long Island, Rockville Centre Superintendent William Johnson said his district has sought more racial balance among its teachers, to no avail.

"When we have an opening, for whatever reason, we get no minorities who apply," he said. "We just don't."

Recruiting efforts in other areas of the country, such as Atlanta, haven't been effective, he said. "I don't have a specific answer for you except to say that we in the past have gone to other areas of the country and tried to recruit from out of state and nobody wants to come here," Johnson said. "They can't live on a starting teacher's salary" on Long Island.

Lorna Lewis, the superintendent of the Plainview-Old Bethpage school district, agreed with Johnson about the difficulties in recruiting teachers to come to the Island. She also echoed his concerns that the education pipeline producing certified teachers may be lacking in diversity.

Lewis formerly was superintendent of the East Williston school district and, in that position, was the first African-American woman to lead a predominantly white district on Long Island.

"There is this misconception that if you're a minority, then you can only serve in a minority district. That's a very limiting concept," she said. "Majority-white districts need the same kind of role models. They need to see minorities being successful and being role models -- teachers, leaders in every category, not just as custodians, which is what happens. . . . We still have to break that mold."

 

Gender differences

 

The gender breakdown for several occupations on the Island shows historical patterns long a fact of American life: Women are employed in large percentages in the teaching, health care, administrative support and retail fields, while men are the overwhelming majority in business and financial areas, science, engineering, computer professional industries and construction.

Women are a mere 2 percent of "construction and extractive craft workers" in Nassau and Suffolk, according to the data.

"The acceptance of women in the trades is not very good," said Lenore Janis, president of Professional Women in Construction, a Manhattan-based nonprofit. Entry into the business often is "a father-son thing," she said, with women missing out on wages that can be "somewhere around $20 to $25 an hour," and higher if in a union.

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