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More than 70% of LIers see less opportunity now, poll shows

Fred Leibowitz of Massapequa is worried about the

Fred Leibowitz of Massapequa is worried about the opportunities his kids may not have in the future on Long Island. He is shown at home Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016 with his children: Eric, left, 12; Logan, 7 months; and Matthew, 13, right. Credit: Chuck Fadely

More than 7 in 10 Long Islanders said there is now less economic opportunity for young people than 25 years ago, according to a Newsday-News 12-Siena College poll.

Seventy-two percent of the registered voters surveyed said young adults have “less opportunity to be successful” on the Island than they did in 1991. Only 13 percent said there is more opportunity and 12 percent said the amount of opportunity hadn’t changed significantly in 25 years.

The telephone poll of 984 voters was conducted Feb. 14-18 and Feb. 21-22. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Pessimism about the likelihood of success for the Island’s young people was pervasive, cutting across all demographic groups.

The gloomiest were voters between the ages of 35 and 54, and people with incomes of $100,000 or higher: More than 80 percent of each group said economic opportunity locally had diminished.

Blacks and Latinos were the most upbeat with 34 percent and 27 percent, respectively, saying there is more economic opportunity than in 1991. Still, a majority of both groups said the chances of success are less.

“I don’t have great confidence that my kids will do better than I did,” said Fred Leibowitz, a father of three young boys in Massapequa who teaches at a public school in Flushing, Queens.

“Young people today are saddled with an unbelievable amount of college debt, and the jobs just aren’t there,” he said.

More than 9 in 10 of the Long Islanders surveyed said the availability of good jobs was either a very important or important issue. And jobs ranked No. 2 behind property taxes when voters were asked to identify the single most important issue.

Among those polled, 28 percent said they are worse off financially now than they were four years ago. Twenty-one percent said they are better off, and 49 percent said their financial circumstances are about the same as in 2012.

Many Long Islanders feel “squeezed,” saying their wages haven’t kept pace with the rising costs for housing, taxes, utilities, food and education, said Siena pollster Don Levy. “It’s a sobering challenge to political leaders and the business community on Long Island when three-quarters of the people say there is less opportunity than there used to be.”

The poll results reflect dramatic changes over a 25-year period that include the loss of high-paying jobs in manufacturing and on Wall Street, the rise of low-wage jobs in health care and services, and young adults likely having multiple employers when their parents had one employer for an entire career.

“Twenty-five years ago, you could graduate, find yourself a position and stay at the same place of work for 25 to 30 years while moving up the ladder,” said Richard Vogel, an economist and dean of Farmingdale State College’s business school.

“Work is completely different today. . . . There is a lot more freelance, and individuals have to gain greater skills,” he said. “But I believe there are opportunities.”

Long Island’s economy has changed radically in a quarter century.

Manufacturing jobs have been replaced by jobs at stores, hospitals and service firms. Factory payrolls dropped 53 percent from 147,640 in 1991 to 69,514 in 2013, the most recent available data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Aerospace manufacturer Grumman Corp. had a local payroll of 15,300 workers 25 years ago before the Cold War’s end cut demand for fighter jets. The company’s successor, Northrop Grumman Corp., has about 550 workers locally.

There have been significant changes since 1991 in wages and prices.

Per capita personal income in Nassau and Suffolk counties climbed 127 percent in both counties, to $73,618 and $56,725, respectively, between 1991 and 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

That gain exceeds the 82 percent rise in the metropolitan area’s consumer price index from January 1991 to January 2016. (These and other dollar figures haven’t been adjusted for inflation.)

The median selling price of a home has risen 163 percent to $442,500 in Nassau, and 130 percent to $317,000 in Suffolk, from January 1991 to January 2016, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island.

Ann M. Becker, 58, of Mount Sinai, said she and her husband are financially better off than they were four years ago, in part because three of their four daughters have graduated from college and found good jobs.

However, Becker, a history professor at SUNY Empire State College, worries about her students.

“It’s harder for young people to buy a house, try to save money or even buy a car,” she said. “The job market isn’t what it was.”

Union leader John R. Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, blamed the dearth of good-paying jobs on the 2007-09 recession, which he said wiped out the retirement savings of older workers, causing them to postpone retirement.

“There’s a bottleneck, but it will work itself out,” he said. “The opportunities are different than they were 25 years ago.”

Like some of those surveyed, Stephen D. Scrobe’s opinion about economic opportunity today versus 25 years ago is influenced by his children’s experience. He is a father of four.

Scrobe’s eldest daughter didn’t return to the family’s Manhasset home after graduating from Loyola University Maryland. She works with learning-disabled children in the Baltimore County School District.

Scrobe, 57, a financial services worker in Manhattan, said, “My daughter felt the opportunities weren’t as good on Long Island as they were in other places.”

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