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Long Island

Census: Nassau and Suffolk both home to a diversity of languages

The percentage of residents who speak a language other than English at home exceeded the national rate in both Long Island counties, although the trend is more pronounced in Nassau, the census found.

The survey also revealed an increase in 2012-16

The survey also revealed an increase in 2012-16 in the percentage of Spanish speakers in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, compared with 2007-11. Above, the annual Brentwood Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade on June 4, 2017. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

An increasing percentage of Long Islanders speak a language other than English at home, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, another illustration of growing diversity in the region’s population.

The percentage of residents who speak a language other than English at home exceeded the national rate in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, although the trend is more pronounced in Nassau, the census found.

Specifically, the new five-year American Community Survey data, which covers the years 2012-2016, show that in the United States as a whole, 21.1 percent of the population age 5 and over spoke a language other than English, up from 20.3 percent in 2007-2011.

Those percentages were noticeably higher in Nassau, where 28 percent didn’t speak English at home, up from 27.5 percent in 2007-2011. For Suffolk, the rate was 22.5 percent in 2012-2016, up from 20.1 percent.

“It looks like Long Island is becoming a more globalized suburb — while losing its old European roots,” said noted demographer William Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, alluding also to census statistics showing declines among residents who report Italian, Irish and German ancestry, though those three ancestry groups still have the highest shares of the population.

Those of Italian ancestry in Nassau, for example, constituted 20.1 percent of the county’s population in 2012-16, down from 22.7 percent in the earlier five years; while in Suffolk, those of Italian descent were 25.5 percent of the population in 2012-16, down from 28.4 percent.

Those of Irish ancestry were 14.7 percent of Nassau’s population in 2012-16, down from 16.8 percent, and in Suffolk, 19.5 percent in 2012-16, down from 22.9 percent.

Those with German roots were 9 percent of Nassau’s population, down from 10.7 percent in 2007-11. In Suffolk, those numbers dropped from 16.7 percent to 14.6 percent, respectively.

The government survey also offered details on an additional, related category — those who speak English less than “very well,” numbering 11.7 percent in Nassau in 2012-16, up from 10.6 percent. In Suffolk, the rate was 9.4 percent in 2012-16, which according to the census was not a statistically significant change from the earlier period.

Indicative of the Island’s growing Latino population, the survey also revealed that those who spoke Spanish at home in Nassau rose to 12.7 percent in 2012-16, from 11.7 percent in 2007-11. The percentages were higher in Suffolk: 13.9 percent in 2012-16, up from 11.9 percent.

Long Island has seen a large increase in Latinos, who in the 2010 census accounted for 15.6 percent of the population. The Island’s Latino population increased more than 56 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Residents who spoke Asian or Pacific Islander languages at home also ticked up in both counties: rising to 4.4 percent in Nassau, from 4 percent; and to 2.1 percent, from 1.9 percent, in Suffolk between the two five-year time periods.

Meanwhile, the non-Hispanic white population in Nassau dropped to 62.2 percent, from 66.2 percent in 2007-11. In Suffolk it dipped to 69.2 percent in 2012-16, from 72.2 percent.

The American Community Survey, which has replaced the census long form, queries about 3.5 million residents annually. The five-year survey is unique in that it provides information on 40 subject topics, covering demographic, economic, education and housing issues down to the smallest geographic areas.

Other highlights:

  • 34.6 percent of Nassau residents with a mortgage paid 35 percent or more of their income on monthly housing costs in 2012-16, a decline from 40.1 percent in 2007-11; and in Suffolk, 35.5 percent in 2012-16, down from 41 percent in 2007-11, a period which incorporated much of the economic downturn known as the Great Recession.
  • Paying that much of one’s income for housing costs is considered financially imprudent. “The limit should be 28 to 30 percent, at most,” said John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group.
  • Commuting time increased in both counties between 2012-16 and 2007-11. For Nassau, the time needed to get to work rose to 35.3 minutes, from 33.5 minutes; while in Suffolk travel time increased to 31.7 minutes, from 30.3 minutes.

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