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Salary data offers mixed bag for LI

New data shows rise of low-wage jobs on

New data shows rise of low-wage jobs on Long Island, including restaurant workers and health-care employees. Credit: Doug Young, 2010

Long Island's average hourly wage edged up slightly last year, but some of its fastest-growing occupations pay the lowest wages, federal data released Wednesday show.

The Island's average wage was $25.03 an hour in May 2012, up from $24.92 in May 2011, said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Long Island pay exceeded the national average of $22.01 an hour.

Two of the lowest-paying occupations here have also led job gains, a trend that has long worried local economists. They are classified by the BLS as health-care support, and food preparation and serving related. The food-preparation category paid the lower wage, an average $11.39 an hour. In March that category was one of the biggest job gainers locally, the state Labor Department said recently.

Food preparation jobs largely grew on Long Island throughout the recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. The category had 83,800 jobs in March, up significantly from the 68,300 it had in March 2007.

Health-care support occupations, another fast-growing category, had an average hourly wage of $15.37. Long Island's health-care sector maintained strong job growth during the recession. It had 204,100 jobs in March compared with 175,800 in March 2007.

Food-service and health-care jobs are growing because they are either immune to globalization or benefit from an aging population or legislative changes, said Professor Panos Mourdoukoutas, chair of the economics department at LIU Post in Brookville. But that growth concerns him.

"It's not terribly good for the Long Island economy because what matters is the overall income," he said. "We would like to see income growth across the board, including the highly paid jobs."

Higher-paying occupations have recovered more slowly. For example, construction, which pays an average $29.62 an hour here, has yet to make up the jobs it lost in the recession. The Island had 60,300 construction jobs in March, down from 66,500 in March 2007.

Construction activity has been picking up recently, in part because of post-Sandy rebuilding, said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the Labor Department's Long Island office. But she said that it will take a while to bounce back from the recession.

"We are working our way up," she said. "But it's not going to happen overnight."

Legal services, which had one of the highest wages, $47.53 an hour, has nearly recouped all the jobs lost during the recession. It had 18,700 jobs in March, compared with 18,800 in March 2007.

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