The local food preparation and serving category had 1,000 more...

The local food preparation and serving category had 1,000 more jobs this spring than a year earlier. Pay averaged $11.56 an hour. (May 19, 2012) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Some of Long Island's lowest-paying jobs are among its fastest-growing, federal data released Tuesday indicate. And the statistics show that wages overall on the Island rose a modest 2 percent between May 2010 and May 2011.

Health-care support and food preparation and serving, two of the Island's fastest-growing categories, had average hourly wages of $15.41 and $11.56 respectively, among the lowest in the report.

Health care was the only category on Long Island that added jobs consistently throughout the recession, in part because of the rise in the number of health-care aides, state data has shown. The category that includes home health aides had 3,700 more jobs in April compared with the year before, according to recent state Labor Department data. The local category that includes food preparation and serving occupations had 1,000 more jobs in April than the year before.

"The growth on Long Island has been primarily concentrated in low-wage areas," said Irwin Kellner, chief economist for MoneyWatch.com, a financial information website.

Economist Gregory DeFreitas, who heads Hofstra University's labor studies program, echoed that sentiment. "This really has been a lost decade for working people in both jobs and pay prospects," he said.

The average hourly wage on the Island rose to $24.92 in May 2011 from $24.45 the year before, the federal data show. Nationally, the average wage grew by roughly the same percentage, rising to $21.74 from $21.35 the year before.

"These modest increases were necessary considering the business environment and the cost and competitiveness that [companies] were confronting," said employment attorney Jeffrey Naness, a partner at Jericho-based Naness, Chaiet & Naness, which represents employers in union negotiations.

But George Bloom, president of Local 1104 of the Communications Workers of America in Farmingdale, said that companies with record profits are paying workers modest increases even though employees face rising costs for food and fuel.

"I believe that there are many corporations that could pay more," he said.

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