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Long Island wage increases barely keep ahead of inflation

Federal data for 2018's second quarter show wages rose 3.4 percent in Suffolk, 2.5 percent in Nassau compared to a year ago, but inflation ate into gains.

Long Island and New York City residents seek

Long Island and New York City residents seek work at Nassau's 11th Mega Job Fair at Nassau Community College last October. Photo Credit: Anthony DelMundo

Average weekly wages in Nassau and Suffolk counties rose last year, though not as fast as in some other parts of the state, federal data released this week show.

And inflation has eaten into a lot of the increase, a local economist said. 

On the Island, wages rose faster in Suffolk than in Nassau.

Average weekly wages rose 3.4 percent to $1,134 in Suffolk in the second quarter (April to June) of 2018, compared with the second quarter of 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. In Nassau, average weekly pay increased 2.5 percent over the 12 months to $1,175. 

Still, the Island's wage growth overall remains weaker than local economists have expected. 

The modest wage growth "has puzzled observers, given low unemployment rates that have persisted for many months now," said John A. Rizzo, economics professor at Stony Brook University and chief economist of the Long Island Association trade group. The Island's jobless rate dropped to 3 percent in November, the lowest for that month since 1999, the latest state Labor Department data show. And companies have long complained of a shortage of skilled workers.

Rizzo said wage increases in manufacturing have been particularly strong, which could explain why Suffolk outperformed Nassau. 

"Counties with a higher share of manufacturing jobs may have higher overall wage growth than counties with a larger share of jobs in discretionary services, because it is more difficult to pass on wage increases in terms of higher prices in industries where consumer spending is discretionary, " Rizzo said. "You still need a refrigerator but can pass on dinners out if the price rises."    

Several Long Island industries have had wage growth above the national average, including retail and manufacturing, said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the Labor Department's Hicksville office. "Job losses over the past year in several high-paying industries such as finance and insurance and professional and technical services held down overall wage growth," she said.

Last year, metro New York prices rose an average of 2 percent, so the real, after-inflation wage rise was only 0.5 percent in Nassau and 1.4 percent in Suffolk, said economist Gregory DeFreitas, who heads Hofstra University's labor studies program.

"All this needs to be kept in the context of rising price inflation lately that has eaten away most of the purchasing power of the higher pay," he said.

Suffolk's 3.4 percent annual wage increase matched the average for the nation, while Nassau's fell below it. 

Weekly wages rose 4.4 percent year over year in Manhattan, to $2,025. Queens posted a 3.9 increase to $1,062. 

Nassau and Suffolk's weekly wages placed them 51st and 65th, respectively, among the 349 largest U.S. counties, the data show. New York County ranked fourth nationwide and had the highest weekly wages in the state.   

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