A U.S. Census survey shows improving economic indicators for Long...

A U.S. Census survey shows improving economic indicators for Long Island but local social service officials say the area's working class population continues to struggle.

Credit: Newsday/John Keating

Economic indicators, such as the poverty rate, median household income and the unemployment rate, all show improvement in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to five-year data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Yet despite those improvements between two five-year periods of the bureau's American Community Survey estimates — 2017-2021 and 2012-2016 — Long Island's working class population continues to struggle, according to local social service officials.

"One of the things we have seen is we do have working class folks that are still in need and not financially stable," said Frances Pierre, Suffolk's social services commissioner, "and they need extra supplements to assist them, especially when it comes to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits." SNAP benefits are more commonly known as food stamps.

"It’s not for lack of employment," she said, but the lack of "equitable wages to be self sufficient."

Suffolk's deputy social services commissioner, Christine Fellini added: "While the poverty rate is low, the cost of living is high. Those who are in poverty really feel it."

According to the survey data, poverty rates for Nassau and Suffolk declined between the two five-year periods: For Nassau the rate for 2017-2021 was 5.5%, down from 6% in 2012-2016, which the bureau deemed a statistically significant change. Similarly, for Suffolk the rate was 6.6% in the most recent five-year period, down from 7.3% in 2012-2016, also a statistically significant change.

Long Island's poverty rate is about half the national level — which for 2017-2021 was 12.6%, down from 15.1% in 2012-2016. But the poverty rate for female-headed households with no spouse present was higher on the Island: 10.6% for Nassau and 13% for Suffolk in the most recent five-year period. That rate still represented a decline for both counties from 2012-2016 when it was 13.3% in Nassau and 15.2% in Suffolk.

Nevertheless, statistics for Long Islanders seeking public aid, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as well as SNAP benefits, display a persistent level of need, officials said. 

According to the Suffolk Department of Social Services, its SNAP program's monthly average caseload dropped from a high of 55,978 in 2018 to 51,596 in 2019 but increased in 2020 and 2021. And it is estimated to go up again this year, for a monthly average of 62,500, based on 11 months so far in 2022. In its Temporary Assistance program — where just over 87% of the recipients are women seeking family assistance — the monthly average caseload declined for several years from 6,285 in 2018. The county says the monthly 2022 average caseload rate through November was 3,952. 

"The Temporary Assistance caseloads in 2020 and 2021 was related to COVID," said Vincent Rothaar, Suffolk's assistant division administrator for client benefits, citing other assistance available at the time as a contributing factor.

"More people were eligible for unemployment [benefits], individuals were not being evicted, so there was not a reason to apply for ongoing or emergency assistance," he said. "That meant caseloads went down."

But when it came to those who needed food and sought out SNAP, Pierre said: "One of the things we found interesting with that is these are the folks who are working, but not making enough to have food on the table." Pierre added: "With the increase in gas and increase in food. If you were already struggling, the increase of everything going on right now makes it even harder to be self sufficient."

Nassau officials were not available for comment, but the press office did supply statistics for Temporary Assistance and SNAP caseloads. The SNAP nonpublic assistance caseload increased slightly in 2020 to 25,920, up from 25,815 in 2019. Nassau posted an increase in 2021 to 26,160, based on a Dec. 31 "snapshot" for each year. The county, using a Sept. 30 "snapshot," estimated a slight decrease in 2022, to 25,864. And the county's Temporary Assistance caseload showed decreases in 2020 and 2021 from 2019's figure of 3,736. The county estimated an increase in 2022, though, climbing to 2,901 from 2,713 the previous year.

The bureau's American Community Survey data showed that 4% of Nassau households received food stamps in 2017-2021, down from 5% in 2012-2016. Household foodstamp recipients in Suffolk comprised 5.8% in 2017-2021, down from 6.7% in the previous five-year period.

The survey's five-year data also showed a rise in median household income in Nassau and Suffolk. Nassau posted a median household income of $126,576 for 2017-21, up from $115,211 in 2012-2016. Suffolk's median was $111,660, up from $101,757 during the earlier period. The median incomes are in 2021 adjusted dollars.

The data also showed a decline in the unemployment rate: 4.5%, down from 5.8% in Nassau and 4.8%, down from 6.1% in Suffolk, during the two five-year periods.

Long Island's increasing diversity was on display in the data, with the foreign-born population continuing to rise in Nassau, at 22.4%, in 2017-21, up from 21.8% in the prior five-year period, which the bureau said was a statistically significant change. Suffolk's remained steady at 15.5% in the most recent period, similar to 15.4% in 2012-2016. The community with the highest foreign-born population — among those with a population of 5,000 or more, according to the survey — was New Cassel in Nassau, at 45.8%. Elmont, also in Nassau, came next at 44.3%, followed by Brentwood in Suffolk at 40.1%.

While there was "still significant economic uncertainty due to inflation and the war in Ukraine," said John Rizzo, an economist and professor at Stony Brook University, he also saw bright spots.

"The unemployment rate on Long Island is near historical lows," Rizzo said. "And the Long Island economy was relatively strong and diversified going into the pandemic, which has helped it to weather the challenges to economic growth in recent years."

Economic indicators, such as the poverty rate, median household income and the unemployment rate, all show improvement in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to five-year data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Yet despite those improvements between two five-year periods of the bureau's American Community Survey estimates — 2017-2021 and 2012-2016 — Long Island's working class population continues to struggle, according to local social service officials.

"One of the things we have seen is we do have working class folks that are still in need and not financially stable," said Frances Pierre, Suffolk's social services commissioner, "and they need extra supplements to assist them, especially when it comes to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits." SNAP benefits are more commonly known as food stamps.

"It’s not for lack of employment," she said, but the lack of "equitable wages to be self sufficient."

Suffolk's deputy social services commissioner, Christine Fellini added: "While the poverty rate is low, the cost of living is high. Those who are in poverty really feel it."

According to the survey data, poverty rates for Nassau and Suffolk declined between the two five-year periods: For Nassau the rate for 2017-2021 was 5.5%, down from 6% in 2012-2016, which the bureau deemed a statistically significant change. Similarly, for Suffolk the rate was 6.6% in the most recent five-year period, down from 7.3% in 2012-2016, also a statistically significant change.

Long Island's poverty rate is about half the national level — which for 2017-2021 was 12.6%, down from 15.1% in 2012-2016. But the poverty rate for female-headed households with no spouse present was higher on the Island: 10.6% for Nassau and 13% for Suffolk in the most recent five-year period. That rate still represented a decline for both counties from 2012-2016 when it was 13.3% in Nassau and 15.2% in Suffolk.

Nevertheless, statistics for Long Islanders seeking public aid, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as well as SNAP benefits, display a persistent level of need, officials said. 

According to the Suffolk Department of Social Services, its SNAP program's monthly average caseload dropped from a high of 55,978 in 2018 to 51,596 in 2019 but increased in 2020 and 2021. And it is estimated to go up again this year, for a monthly average of 62,500, based on 11 months so far in 2022. In its Temporary Assistance program — where just over 87% of the recipients are women seeking family assistance — the monthly average caseload declined for several years from 6,285 in 2018. The county says the monthly 2022 average caseload rate through November was 3,952. 

"The Temporary Assistance caseloads in 2020 and 2021 was related to COVID," said Vincent Rothaar, Suffolk's assistant division administrator for client benefits, citing other assistance available at the time as a contributing factor.

"More people were eligible for unemployment [benefits], individuals were not being evicted, so there was not a reason to apply for ongoing or emergency assistance," he said. "That meant caseloads went down."

But when it came to those who needed food and sought out SNAP, Pierre said: "One of the things we found interesting with that is these are the folks who are working, but not making enough to have food on the table." Pierre added: "With the increase in gas and increase in food. If you were already struggling, the increase of everything going on right now makes it even harder to be self sufficient."

Nassau officials were not available for comment, but the press office did supply statistics for Temporary Assistance and SNAP caseloads. The SNAP nonpublic assistance caseload increased slightly in 2020 to 25,920, up from 25,815 in 2019. Nassau posted an increase in 2021 to 26,160, based on a Dec. 31 "snapshot" for each year. The county, using a Sept. 30 "snapshot," estimated a slight decrease in 2022, to 25,864. And the county's Temporary Assistance caseload showed decreases in 2020 and 2021 from 2019's figure of 3,736. The county estimated an increase in 2022, though, climbing to 2,901 from 2,713 the previous year.

The bureau's American Community Survey data showed that 4% of Nassau households received food stamps in 2017-2021, down from 5% in 2012-2016. Household foodstamp recipients in Suffolk comprised 5.8% in 2017-2021, down from 6.7% in the previous five-year period.

The survey's five-year data also showed a rise in median household income in Nassau and Suffolk. Nassau posted a median household income of $126,576 for 2017-21, up from $115,211 in 2012-2016. Suffolk's median was $111,660, up from $101,757 during the earlier period. The median incomes are in 2021 adjusted dollars.

The data also showed a decline in the unemployment rate: 4.5%, down from 5.8% in Nassau and 4.8%, down from 6.1% in Suffolk, during the two five-year periods.

Long Island's increasing diversity was on display in the data, with the foreign-born population continuing to rise in Nassau, at 22.4%, in 2017-21, up from 21.8% in the prior five-year period, which the bureau said was a statistically significant change. Suffolk's remained steady at 15.5% in the most recent period, similar to 15.4% in 2012-2016. The community with the highest foreign-born population — among those with a population of 5,000 or more, according to the survey — was New Cassel in Nassau, at 45.8%. Elmont, also in Nassau, came next at 44.3%, followed by Brentwood in Suffolk at 40.1%.

While there was "still significant economic uncertainty due to inflation and the war in Ukraine," said John Rizzo, an economist and professor at Stony Brook University, he also saw bright spots.

"The unemployment rate on Long Island is near historical lows," Rizzo said. "And the Long Island economy was relatively strong and diversified going into the pandemic, which has helped it to weather the challenges to economic growth in recent years."

U.S. Census Bureau survey

Long Island poverty rate for 2017-2021: 

  • Nassau: 5.5%
  • Suffolk: 6.6%

For 2012-2016:

  • Nassau: 6%
  • Suffolk: 7.3%

Poverty rate for LI families with female headed households for 2017-2021:

  • Nassau: 10.6%
  • Suffolk: 13%

For 2012-2016:

  • Nassau: 13.3%
  • Suffolk: 15.2%

LI unemployment rate for 2017-2021

  • Nassau: 4.5%
  • Suffolk: 4.8%

For 2012-2016:

  • Nassau: 5.8%
  • Suffolk: 6.1%

Latest Videos