Crowds enjoy their Fourth of July weekend at Jones Beach,...

Crowds enjoy their Fourth of July weekend at Jones Beach, July 2, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

Long Island has remained vibrant and economically competitive thanks to minority communities growing to make it a more diverse region as the white population ebbed, a Long Island Association analysis issued Tuesday says.

Hispanics and Asians, in particular, have driven demographic change as they settled here in large numbers, offsetting declines from deaths and people moving away.

The LIA nonprofit, which advocates for businesses ranging from start-ups to large corporations, looked at the U.S. Census Bureau’s decennial data and population estimates to chart the changes.

“It’s very important for a region to understand its racial composition for a whole host of reasons,” said Kevin Law, president and chief executive officer of the Melville-based association. Those factors include businesses needing to know their markets and public institutions making adaptations to reach all residents, he said.

“Those who embrace growing diversity are going to be the businesses that succeed in the future,” Law added. “We have been trending in this direction for the last three decades, but the last decade has seen tremendous growth” in diversity.

Among the trends noted in the LIA Research Institute report, the latest in a series the group has issued:

  • The Island’s total population, about 2.85 million in 2016, has remained relatively stable since 2010.
  • Long Island’s white population has been declining for decades — for example, whites were 84.1 percent of the Island’s population in 1990 and had dropped to 64.7 percent in 2016.
  • During that time period, the percentage of people tracing their roots to Latin America and Spain rose to 18 percent from 6.3 percent, reaching more than 500,000 and becoming the Island’s largest minority group, according to the report.
  • Blacks were the second-largest minority group in 2016, at 9.2 percent, followed by Asians at 6.6 percent.
  • From 2010 through 2016, the Asian population in the two counties grew 21.8 percent, Hispanics grew 16 percent and blacks grew 7.1 percent, while the white population fell 5.5 percent.
  • During that period, the Asian population was leading in the pace of growth in Nassau County, while Latinos were surging ahead in Suffolk County. African-Americans have risen steadily on the Island at more modest rates.

Sonia Arora, 47, who is Indian-American of Punjabi heritage, said she and her husband returned to New York and moved to Port Washington, partly attracted to the hamlet’s diversity, but they think Long Island could do better in embracing new groups.

Arora said institutions here aren’t always “as warm and welcoming to people who speak other languages and come from other cultures” or face immigration challenges.

She and her husband founded a collective they call Long Island Together, which has been hosting discussions across racial and ethnic lines and looks to encourage more engagement of minority groups in political discourse.

“I definitely think that when people outside of Long Island think of Long Island, they think about it as bastions of privilege and elite kind of middle-class families, but the demographics have changed and our institutions need to reflect that change — and they haven’t,” she said.

Long Island is part of a larger pattern of change that has spread from cities to suburbs, said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

“There’s been a decline of whites for quite a while in a lot of the metropolitan areas” of the United States, Frey said.

New York City, he said, leads the largest metro areas in the decline of its white population, and ranks first for increase of its Asian population and fourth for Hispanic growth. Those changes are more pronounced in the school-age population.

Diverse communities make up large segments of the young population and “from a business perspective, they are an increasing part of the labor force and an increasing part of the customer base” as well, Frey said.

Latinos have been coming to Nassau and Suffolk for decades, with Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans, Mexicans and other groups making the area home.

Advocacy groups have formed to speak out on immigration issues, increase voter participation or help newcomers gain financial literacy and seek citizenship. A generation of Latinos born here is on the rise, said Pilar Moya-Mancera, a native of Peru, part of a Hispanic volunteer coalition in Huntington.

“Our main goal right now is leadership development, because the older generation who have been active in the community are overextended and we need others to carry the torch,” said Moya-Mancera, 47. “The children of the immigrants are voting now and they need to be heard.”

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