Suffolk County continued to lose residents in 2018, while Nassau County grew slightly, according to population estimates the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday.
Immigration stemmed the losses in Suffolk and prevented Nassau from losing population, the estimates show.
Nassau’s estimated population on July 1, 2018, was 1,358,343, up 679 from 1,357,664. Suffolk’s was 1,481,093, down 2,478 from 1,483,571.
Suffolk remained the fourth-most populous county in the state, after Kings (Brooklyn), Queens and New York (Manhattan) counties. Nassau is sixth.
Nassau’s proximity to New York City likely is a key reason why Nassau’s population is slowly rising and Suffolk’s is not, said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
“With New York City gaining population and jobs, and housing prices increasing in the five boroughs, we may be seeing a bit of a boomerang effect that makes Nassau County a more desirable destination for people who want to work in New York City,” he said. “Once you get past western Suffolk, it’s an awfully long commute.”
In addition, Nassau has for years typically had a lower unemployment rate than Suffolk, he said.
In both counties, the census estimates show, more people moved out than moved in from other parts of the United States in 2018. The trend was more pronounced in Suffolk.
Expensive housing and high taxes are among the top reasons Long Islanders said they are leaving the state, said Bobby Falvo, president of Long Island Moving & Storage in Hauppauge.
He recalled how a few months ago, a customer said she and her husband were moving to a large house in North Carolina that they bought for $225,000 because they couldn’t afford to buy on Long Island.
“She goes, ‘Bobby, it was a no-brainer,’ ” Falvo recalled. “She said, ‘Here on Long Island, I probably couldn’t touch this house for 600, 700 thousand dollars, and the taxes would be 15,000 [dollars],’” more than 10 times what they would pay in North Carolina.
Florida remains the most common destination for departing Long Islanders hiring Falvo’s moving company, as it long has been, although because of rising prices in south Florida, north and central Florida have gained in popularity, he said. So have North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, because “they can’t afford Long Island anymore, yet they still have family and friends in New York, so they don’t want to move too far away,” he said.
Suffolk has lost population every year but one since 2012, and has had the biggest numerical drop in population of any county in the state since 2010.
Yet in 2011, during the depths of the recession, Suffolk and Nassau each saw population increases of more than 4,400. People who wanted to leave places such as Long Island couldn’t do so, in part because of the difficulty in getting housing loans, said William Frey, a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution. As the economy improved, more people began leaving areas such as Long Island for less-expensive states like Florida, as they had done before the recession, he said.
Frey predicted the trend of people leaving Long Island for other states, while new immigrants arrive, will continue.
Every year, thousands of immigrants arrive on Long Island from abroad, census estimates show.
The annual immigrant arrival numbers for several years were consistently at or above about 6,000 until 2017, when the number fell to just over 4,800, where it remained in 2018. Those “international migration” numbers only include people who arrived directly from a foreign country, not immigrants arriving from other U.S. locations.
The 2016 election of President Donald Trump led to the slowing in the number of new arrivals, said Gallya Lahav, a professor of political science at Stony Brook University.
A less-welcoming climate for immigrants in the United States since then and greater difficulty in crossing the border — and increased costs to do so — has kept prospective immigrants away, said Lahav, an expert on immigration. The Census Bureau does not ask about immigration status, so it is unclear how many immigrants arrived legally to Long Island.
Lahav said that despite this, immigrants continue to arrive on the Island to join family members and friends already here. As Long Island’s population ages, those immigrants are needed to pay taxes that fund Social Security and other programs, she said.
Levy said with Long Island at roughly full employment, “The big problem is not creating jobs, it’s filling them.” Studies show immigration supplies needed workers and strengthens the Island’s economy.
“It’s not just the stereotype of people cutting lawns and washing dishes,” he said. “They are doctors and researchers. They are filling up our universities and research laboratories.”
BY THE NUMBERS
- 2017 Nassau County population: 1,357,664
- 2018 Nassau population: 1,358,343
- 2017 Suffolk County population: 1,483,571
- 2018 Suffolk population: 1,481,093
- 2017 New York State population: 19,590,719
- 2018 New York State population: 19,542,209
- 2018, immigrants arriving from abroad, Nassau: 2,478
- 2018, immigrants arriving from abroad, Suffolk: 2,367
- 2018 births, Nassau: 14,117
- 2018 births, Suffolk: 15,210
- 2018 deaths, Nassau: 11,419
- 2018 deaths, Suffolk: 13,061
SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU ESTIMATES