Nassau County’s white population dipped below 60 percent for the first time in its modern history in 2018, as Latino, African-American and Asian populations across Long Island grew while the number of non-Hispanic white residents continued to decline, U.S. Census Bureau figures released Thursday show.
The population estimates for July 1, 2018, reflect a decades-long trend that has transformed Long Island from overwhelmingly white to a more diverse place, where Hindu temples and supermercados share the landscape with synagogues and Italian bakeries.
Less than 30 years ago, Long Island was more than 84 percent white, according to the 1990 census. In 2018, about 59 percent of Nassau County residents and 67 percent of Suffolk County residents were white, according to the new estimates. Since 1990, the number of white, non-Hispanic residents dropped by nearly 400,000.
The Island’s population has grown by 230,000 residents since 1990 to a total of nearly 2.84 million, with the most dramatic increase among Latinos and Asians.
Suffolk County in 2018 was nearly 20 percent Latino, up from just over 16.5 percent in the 2010 census. The number of Asian residents in Nassau County increased by nearly one-third between 2010 and 2018, from about 105,000 to nearly 140,000.
The Island’s black, non-Hispanic population also is rising, although more gradually — from about 247,000 in 2010 to more than 267,000 in 2018.
The changes are similar to population shifts occurring in metropolitan areas throughout the Northeast, with suburban growth driven both by immigration and movement of Latinos, African-Americans and Asians from cities, said William Frey, a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution.
In addition, whites are older on average than minorities and have higher death rates and many retire to other states, he said.
Census estimates released in April showed that more people moved out of Long Island between 2017 and 2018 than moved in from other parts of the United States. But that data also showed that more than 4,800 people arrived from abroad, limiting the Island's population loss.
“What keeps the New York region moving is immigration,” Frey said.
The large majority of immigrants on Long Island were born in Latin America or Asia, according to 2017 census estimates.
Latin American immigrants move to where they already have family members to help them navigate the new surroundings and connect them with jobs, said Nelson Melgar, president of the North Shore Hispanic Civic Association and a Glen Cove resident.
“We’ve already got families here, and families attract families,” he said.
About one-third of Latinos on Long Island were born abroad, according to the 2017 estimates.
Minority residents typically are younger than whites. Nationally, the median age for non-Hispanic whites was 43.6 in 2018, compared with 29.5 for Latinos. The median ages for African-Americans and Asians lie in between. County figures for median ages were not part of Thursday's estimates.
“The younger population is more energetic,” Frey said. “It tends to be people moving into the labor force, and it’s better to have a growing labor force than a declining labor force. There are parts of the country that would like to have New York’s energy, in the Great Plains and parts of the Midwest that are not getting immigrants but losing people in general.”
With minorities on average younger than whites, there are a higher proportion of women of child-bearing age, and those women have higher fertility rates than whites, said Kenneth Prewitt, a former director of the Census Bureau and a professor of public affairs at Columbia University.
Those younger nonwhite people are increasingly needed to provide health care and other services to the aging white population, especially because people live longer today than in the past, Prewitt said.
“They’re getting old and they get hospitalized or go into various types of assisted living and guess what? The nurses are Filipino,” Prewitt said. “There’s nobody to take care of them other than members of racial minorities, for the most part.”
Nonwhites are the majority of workers in large swaths of the economy, including low-wage work that whites generally shun, such as housekeeping, landscaping and farm work, he said.
With a growing number of young Long Islanders who are Latino, Asian or African-American, “our future students and our future workforce are primarily going to come from these communities,” said Kevin Law, chief executive officer of the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group.
Yet, many schools with a large number of Latino students — the Island’s largest and fastest-growing minority group — have lower graduation rates and test scores than other schools. Those districts typically have a lower property-tax base, which leads to lower funding and fewer advanced academic programs and amenities, he said.
That should worry all Long Islanders, because high levels of education and training are critical for the region’s economic future, Law said.
“We need to make sure they have the same educational opportunities as the rest of the Island, because our businesses are going to be drawing more and more from those communities for our future workforce,” he said, referring to the Latino student populace.
Asians are more likely to have higher-wage jobs than Latinos and are more likely to be able to afford areas that have higher-achieving schools, Law said.
Noreen Kazi, who is of Pakistani ancestry, said a key reason she and her husband chose to raise their three sons in Plainview was the good schools.
“Education is one of the high priorities on our list,” she said of Asian-Americans. “When you look at the high-performing schools, you will see a high number of Asians in that district, because we do flock to it.”
Kazi said she likes the diversity of Plainview and Long Island as a whole. She didn’t want her children to be the only Asians or Muslims in their school; she also wanted them to grow up around people different from them.
“My neighbors are all different faiths and backgrounds,” she said.
Long Island has become increasingly diverse over the past few decades. The Latino, black and Asian populations have grown while the number of white residents has fallen.
White, non-Hispanic: 2,194,597, 84.1 percent
Hispanic: 165,238, 6.3 percent
Black, non-Hispanic: 182,618, 7 percent
Asian, non-Hispanic: 60,849, 2.3 percent
White, non-Hispanic: 1,801,109, 63.4 percent
Hispanic: 526,951, 18.6 percent
Black, non-Hispanic: 267,507, 9.4 percent
Asian: 199,359, 7.0 percent
Note: American Indians, Pacific Islanders and people of two or more races each comprised less than 2 percent of the Island’s population for the years shown.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau