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Economic inequality persists in Nassau County, report and panel agree

Black residents, besides having lower average incomes, are "less likely to own a home, attain a bachelor's degree, and participate in the county procurement process," the report says. Panelists gave ideas for solutions.

Student Asha Brown gives a spoken-word performance before

Student Asha Brown gives a spoken-word performance before a panel on black economic inequality at Nassau Community College on Wednesday.   Photo Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

Household income and educational attainment have risen for many black Nassau County residents, but a new county report and a panel of local leaders said Wednesday there's still an economic gap between black and white families. 

The panel of four black women spoke at Nassau Community College on the day that  county Comptroller Jack Schnirman released the report on black economic inequality in Nassau.

The panelists shared their thoughts  about why the gap has persisted through decades and what can be done through public policy to help close it.

"The pay gap is a very important issue because it hinders the opportunities for families to be able to access proper health care and education," said Nassau Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury).

Bynoe was joined on the panel by North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Viviana Russell, Urban League of Long Island CEO Theresa Sanders and Assemb. Taylor Raynor (D-Hempstead).

The comptroller’s office Report on Black Economic Inequity compares black Nassau residents with their white neighbors on different economic indicators, including household income and access to credit. 

The average annual income for a white Nassau household is $107,465, compared with $88,107 in black households, the report states, citing 2016 data pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau. The report also notes that residents of communities with high concentrations of black residents — including Old Westbury, Freeport and Uniondale — have trouble with access to credit or have a high revolving credit balance, citing 2017 data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The report states black residents in Nassau are "more likely to experience unemployment and be underpaid." The report also states that black residents are "less likely to own a home, attain a bachelor’s degree, and participate in the county procurement process."

The women said one way black residents could close the gap is by becoming entrepreneurs who compete for and land government contracts. 

Raynor said companies have historically paid blacks  less in part because blacks sometimes aren't confident negotiating a higher salary. That's a mindset that has to change, she said. 

"A lot of times we just accept what we're given because we're just thankful to have a job," she said. "We feel like 'Oh, you think I'm worthy enough,' but, no. Everyone in this room is worth it."

To further fix the pay gap, Bynoe said lawmakers must pass legislation that holds businesses accountable for paying people of color lower than their white co-workers. She said laws that outlaw job applications from asking for previous employer salary can also prevent companies from offering lower salaries. 

Citing a 2017 research from Policy Link and the Urban League of Long Island, the report indicates that Long Island's economy could have been $24 billion stronger in 2014 if the racial gap in income were eliminated. 

The comptroller's report, which also shared national data about teen unemployment and homeownership, states "the racial economic gap is a threat to Nassau County’s long-term financial success as demographic trends project that Long Island will become majority-minority within the next 15 years."

CORRECTION: Comptroller programs director Erika Hill was at the panel on Wednesday. An earlier photo caption misidentified her.

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