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COVID-19 recession hit Nassau harder than Suffolk, data show

A sign on a closed restaurant on Main

A sign on a closed restaurant on Main Street in Port Washington in April 2020. Last year's COVID-19 shutdowns hit Nassau's economy harder than Suffolk's, data shows. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Last year’s coronavirus-induced recession hit Nassau harder than Suffolk, though the economies of both counties contracted from their 2019 levels, according to data released Wednesday.

Nassau’s gross domestic product, the sum of all goods and services produced, totaled $83 billion in 2020, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported. That’s a 6.4% drop from the previous year.

Suffolk’s GDP totaled $84.8 billion last year, down 4.3% from 2019.

The economic contraction on Long Island compared with a 5% decline in New York State and a 3.4% drop in nationwide in GDP.

Hardest hit

Sectors that contracted the most between 2019 and 2020

Nassau County

Entertainment & recreation: down 48%

Hotels & restaurants: down 32%

Retail: down 12%

Construction: down 10%

Suffolk County

Entertainment & recreation: down 28%

Hotels & restaurants: down 25%

Education: down 20%

Construction: down 10%

 

Compiled by James T. Madore

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

"The fact that Nassau County had a greater contraction than Suffolk County may be because a lot of Nassau residents work in New York City, which was really slammed by COVID," said John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group and a Stony Brook University professor.

In the five boroughs, GDP dropped the most in Queens: 11.2%, year over year. That’s the biggest decline nationwide among counties with populations of more than 500,000 people, according to BEA.

On Long Island, most economic sectors shrank last year because of the state-ordered lockdown of nonessential activity to slow the virus’ spread, beginning in mid-March 2020.

The hardest-hit industries were entertainment/recreation and hotels/restaurants. In Nassau, entertainment/recreation fell nearly 48% from 2019. In both counties, hotels/restaurants declined more than 25%, year over year.

"These industries suffered disproportionately — and they are important to Long Island’s economy," Rizzo said on Wednesday, adding that tourism is a key pillar of local commerce.

He and others said the economy, both locally and nationwide, bounced back from recession in late 2020 once the lockdown ended. But hotels, restaurants and other service businesses have recovered more slowly.

Mario Saccente, president of the 500-member Long Island chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, said, "A lot of places are trying to catch up on past bills, and now they’re having trouble finding workers and food prices are much higher."

Restaurant owners want Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion grant program that launched in spring and quickly ran out of money.

The fund "is definitely needed … Some restaurants continue to struggle," Saccente said.

The sole economic sector that grew in both Nassau and Suffolk was finance/insurance, up 3.4% and 9%, respectively, between 2019 and 2020.

Nationwide, only nine of the 141 largest counties reported an increase in GDP, year over year. The fastest growing was Santa Clara County, California, where the information sector helped produce economic growth of 4.4%.

Among New York State’s 62 counties, only rural Orleans, Rensselaer and Yates saw an increase in their GDPs in 2020 compared with a year earlier.

Suffolk has the third-largest economy in the state and Nassau is fourth. The top two are Manhattan and Brooklyn, according to BEA.

Outgoing Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Wednesday the federal data confirms "Nassau’s economy was crushed by this pandemic." She said her administration mounted "an aggressive, pro-business response" that included money and free personal protective equipment for businesses.

The programs "helped deliver millions of grants to our Main Street shops during this critical time," she told Newsday.

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