After nearly 50 years of analyzing Long Island's economy, Pearl Kamer is calling it quits.
Since 1995 Kamer has served as chief economist for the Long Island Association, the Island's largest business group. She plans to leave that part-time post at the end of April, she said this week.
Her economic reports at various jobs have spanned the transformation of Long Island from a New York City bedroom community in the 1960s to a major economy generating high-paying, defense-industry jobs in the '80s to its current struggles with sluggish employment growth and the rise of low-paying jobs.
She warns that Long Island will have to transform itself again to regain economic prosperity.
This is her second retirement. In 1995 the Nassau resident retired from the former Long Island Regional Planning Board, which she joined in 1966 and also served as chief economist. The day after her retirement she was hired by the LIA.
This time, though, she said she is putting away her economic tools for good.
"I am ready to move on to the next stage of my life," said Kamer, who turned 74 in February and looks forward to more Friday night Rummikub board games with neighbors.
That's a far cry from the economist who has served on the Board of Economic Advisors to the state Assembly's Ways and Means Committee.
Herman Farrell Jr. (D-Manhattan), who heads the committee, praised Kamer. "She does a very good job," he said in a telephone interview. "I always like listening to her presentations."
Kevin Law, president and chief executive of the LIA, said, "Pearl has been a terrific colleague of mine and a great resource to the LIA and the LI business community."
Barbara Viola, president of the Long Island chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals, said Kamer's annual economic forecast to the group "really looks into things."
Early start in research
Kamer was an accidental economist. She graduated from Queens College in 1960 with a degree in education, because back then that's what many women studied, she said.
Her first job out of college was at The Conference Board, the Manhattan-based business research group. She worked there from 1961 to 1963, helping a female senior economist prepare publications on antitrust economics.
"I really fell in love with business economics," she said. "I found my career."
Kamer got a master's of business administration from New York University the year after she left The Conference Board. She later earned a doctorate in economics and public finance from the same school. Private industry offered few opportunities for a woman with an MBA then. So in 1966 she joined the Long Island Regional Planning Board, where she directed economic, fiscal and demographic studies of the local economy.
She had a rocky start there after her first encounter with Newsday, which quoted her in a cover story. The Nassau County executive at the time, the late Eugene Nickerson, called the young economist into his office and told her, "Junior economists don't get their names on the front page of Newsday. County executives do."
Kamer has taught at local universities, including Adelphi and Stony Brook, and has written two books on economics.
Tough choices for LI
Long Island, she said this week, has to make some tough choices. It must tackle problems like costly duplicative government services, traffic congestion, high taxes, a high-tech labor shortage and changing housing needs. For example, the Island needs housing to accommodate the rising number of single elderly people, and to retain young residents.
"We have to change," she said, "in order to meet the needs of our own population."
Highlights of an economic life:
1960: Graduates from Queens College with B.A. in education
1961: Joins The Conference Board, a Manhattan-based business research group, as a research assistant
1966: Joins the Long Island Regional Planning Board as a statistician; later becomes chief economist
1976: Receives a PhD in economics and public finance from NYU
1995: Retires from the planning board. Hired the next day by the LIA as chief economist
2013: Announces retirement from LIA by end of April