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Census: Slow growth, more diversity for LI

Commuters wait for their west bound train at

Commuters wait for their west bound train at the Hicksville train station. (March 2, 2011) Credit: Michael E. Ach

Modest growth -- with Suffolk County leading the way. Greater diversity throughout Long Island, led by another surge in the Hispanic population.

Those are some of the highlights experts are expecting from the 2010 Census, due to be released Thursday.

In 2000, Long Island's minority population increased to 23.6 percent, up from 15.9 percent in 1990. Without growth among Hispanics, blacks and Asians, Long Island would have lost population due to its shrinking white majority.

"We're certainly expecting that the [2010] data will show that Long Island is becoming more diverse racially and ethnically," said Christopher Jones, vice president of research for the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based independent urban research and advocacy group.

"That's certainly a trend that's been happening over at least a couple of decades, not only on Long Island but in other suburban areas of the New York metro region," Jones said.

Between 1990 and 2000, Long Island's population grew 5.5 percent -- the same percentage for New York State as a whole -- to 2.75 million, with Suffolk's population growth twice that of Nassau's.

In the past decade, the Island's population growth is "not going to be explosive, like it was between 1950 and 1960, and 1960 and 1970," said Lee Koppelman, director of Stony Brook University's Center for Regional Policy Studies.

Nassau County's population has shifted over the past 30 years, fluctuating between 1.3 million and 1.4 million people. The county actually lost population between 1970 and 1990 before increasing in 2000.

Koppelman said Nassau's population has largely "stabilized." Suffolk, he and others said, is where the larger population growth is expected.

"In Suffolk County, there's three times the area and much less density per square mile than in Nassau," Koppelman said.

Seth Forman, chief planner for the Long Island Regional Planning Council, expects Nassau's population will increase by about 50,000 people, noting a number of multiunit developments, including senior housing, built over the past decade.

He forecasts an increase of 90,000 to 100,000 people, boosting Suffolk's population to 1.51 million.

Local experts say Hispanics will be a big part of the Island's population gains, just as they were a decade ago.

"I'm expecting a similar surge," Forman said, noting that Hispanics are generally younger and have higher birthrates than other racial groups. But he doesn't expect the increase -- which was 71 percent among Hispanics between 1990 and 2000 -- to be as large this time.

"Because of the recession, the net migration of Hispanics has been flat for a couple of years," Forman said.

Forman also anticipates an increase among Asians and a stable black population, as foreshadowed by recent census estimates.

2010 Census state population figures, released in December, showed New York State's population grew 2.1 percent in the last decade to 19.28 million. Because New York is growing slower than other states in the South and West, it will again lose two seats in the House.

The U.S. Constitution requires a census of the nation's population every 10 years, primarily for the reapportionment of Congress. The census tally is also used to redraw state legislative districts based on changes in population, and drives the distribution of about $400 billion annually in federal funding to states, local and tribal governments, prompting close attention by many local government leaders.

Jones, of the Regional Plan Association, said the big question in the 2010 Census is how well Long Island been able to sustain its suburban lifestyle.

Said Jones: "Is there evidence that the Island is still able to provide upward mobility for newcomers as it has in previous decades?"

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