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Economy must grow faster to help residents cope with rising costs: Study

The final report from the Long Island Index said that while the economy continues to expand, it isn't growing fast enough - or in the right industries - to raise all residents' living standards.

Machinist Jason Gallo operates a computer-controlled milling machine

Machinist Jason Gallo operates a computer-controlled milling machine while working with aluminum at East/West Industries Inc. in Ronkonkoma Thursday, April 5, 2018. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

The local economy isn’t growing fast enough to help all residents cope with the rising cost of living, according to the final Long Island Index report.

“The economy of Nassau and Suffolk counties continues to expand, but we’re struggling to create the types of industries needed to raise standards of living, and we tend to create jobs in the lower pay scales,” said Ann Golob, director of the index, which was released Thursday.

The index, a research initiative started in 2003 by the Rauch Foundation in Garden City, found the Island’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced here — has increased an average of 1.2 percent each year since 2000. National GDP grew 1.6 percent annually in the same period.

Golob and the other authors of the 122-page report, available at longislandindex.org, cited a negligible population increase, fewer young people and more senior citizens, and a slow recovery from the 2007-09 recession as reasons for the Island’s meager economic gains since 2000.

They also said an insufficient number of jobs have been created in manufacturing, finance and technology — industries that generally pay high salaries and generate wealth through exporting.

“It’s telling that the three industry clusters that have provided most of Long Island’s job growth in the last 16 years — regional recreation, health services and construction — are driven more by spending from people who live on the Island than goods and services that are sold to other parts of the world,” the authors said.

Construction employment rose 26 percent between 2010 and 2016 to 73,710 jobs, with pay averaging $67,267 per year. Regional recreation increased 23 percent to 108,432 positions with average pay of $24,230. And health services was up 10 percent to 145,411 with average pay of $54,343.

In the same six-year period, manufacturing employment fell 16 percent to 26,027 jobs with pay averaging $73,728 per year. Education employment was down 1 percent to 114,912 positions with average pay of $67,371. And finance and insurance rose just 5 percent to 64,809, with average pay of $106,124.

Still, the index also identified two bright spots: biomedical jobs climbed 12 percent in 2010-16 to 12,293 jobs with pay averaging $55,218, and the Long Island economy added more jobs on a percentage basis than suburban northern New Jersey, Connecticut or the Hudson Valley.

“We are expanding in the biotechnology field and if we can sustain growth here, this has the potential to significantly grow our regional economy,” Golob told about 200 business executives, union leaders, not-for-profit officials and politicians at an index event on the LIU Post campus in Brookville.

She said the Island’s economy continues to benefit from thousands of commuters, primarily from Nassau, who work in Manhattan and bring home high wages.

Many in the audience nodded in agreement when index officials said future economic expansion depends on more downtown redevelopment projects that include apartments and retail shops on Main Streets and near Long Island Rail Road stations. Such projects are attractive to young workers, which the Island is losing.

However, one third of LIRR stations are surrounded by land that is not zoned for apartment buildings, according to an analysis from the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based think tank that helped to prepare the index report.

The audience gasped when officials said the number of people age 18 to 34 who are living with their parents or relatives climbed from 35 percent to 41 percent in the past two years.

Index publisher and creator Nancy Rauch Douzinas said, “Big challenges remain before us. We need a big response. We need boldness.”

She decried school segregation and Long Island’s many layers of municipal government, to loud audience applause.

Earlier this month, Douzinas announced the index will become nextLI, a project of the Newsday editorial pages. NextLI will publish research and promote community discussion through its website, next.newsday.com. NextLI is backed by $1.5 million over three years from the Rauch Foundation.

After the ceremony, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the index over 15 years has identified the region’s challenges. Economic growth, he said, will only occur “if we have young, skilled people coming to our region to access high-paying jobs. We need to deliver the things that they are looking for.”

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