Long Island's foreign-born population has continued to grow, reflecting the Island's growing racial and ethnic diversity, amid rising median household income and falling unemployment, according to census data released Thursday.
But experts cautioned that within the positive numbers, uncertainties remained. International turmoil could still impede the region's economy, they said, and a lag in census data has prevented the bureau from fully capturing the effect of COVID-19 restrictions.
"The data only reflect a small part of the impact of the pandemic on social, economic and housing measures," the U.S. Censue Bureau said in a news release. It also noted that most of the data was collected during the "final years (2016-2019) of the longest expansion in the history of U.S. business cycles."
From 2016 to 2020, the number of foreign-born residents in Nassau increased to 22.4% of the county's 1.35 million people, a statistically significant increase over 2011 to 2015, when it was 21.7%, according to estimates from the bureau's American Community Survey. Suffolk County's foreign-born population, however, remained essentially flat at 15.3%, out of a population of 1.48 million, up only slightly from 15.1% in the earlier five-period, a statistically insignificant change, the bureau said.
Households where a language other than English was spoken at home showed a statistically significant increase in Nassau — 28.8% from 2016 to 2020, up from 27.9% in the prior five-year period — while remaining just about the same in Suffolk at 22.5%.
"Anybody who's out and about on Long Island doesn't need the census to tell them it's not your mother's and father's suburb anymore," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. "The real question is what these new populations do with what should be growing influence in all aspects of Long Island, economically, socially and politically."
Levy added: "There's a lag between the percentages of nonwhite population and their influence in economic and political life."
The five-year estimates from the American Community Survey provide scores of socioeconomic and demographic statistics for communities of all sizes, including Long Island's 293 hamlets and villages. However, the data only allows for comparisons between the two five-year periods for 153 of the communities.
The top five Long Island communities with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents from 2016 to 2020 were New Cassel, with 45.1%; Elmont, 45%; North Bay Shore, 42.2%; Brentwood, 40.6%, and Hempstead Village, 39.3%.
However, international migration to the United States is declining, said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. While he has not reviewed the new estimates, Frey said other census data shows a steady decline in net international migration to New York through July 2021.
"Clearly [New York], like other major immigrant states, showed a huge immigration downturn, especially over the past three years," Frey said in an email.
The estimates also showed a decline in the unemployment rate between the two five-year periods for both counties: 4.1% for Nassau, down from 6.4% in 2011 to 2015; and 4.5% in Suffolk, down from 6.4% in the prior five-year period.
The poverty rate also dropped for both counties between the two five-year periods: 5.4% in Nassau, from 6.2%; and in Suffolk, to 6.5% from 7%. And median household income rose in both counties, according to the estimates. In Nassau, the median income increased from $108,329 to $120,036 between the two five-year periods; and in Suffolk, $96,819 to $105,362. All of these changes were statistically significant, the bureau said.
John Rizzo, an economist and professor at Stony Brook University, noted that New York State unemployment figures released this week showed Long Island's rate at 3.5% in January, which he said was "very impressive … That's the good news. Unfortunately, we face significant headwinds. The geopolitical and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and rising inflation threaten the U.S. economy, including Long Island. And given this uncertainty, it's really impossible to predict the economy in the near term with any confidence."