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Third of Long Islanders fearful of losing their jobs, nextLI survey finds

Newsday asked Long Islanders if they were worried about the ecomony due to the pandemic. Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

Most Long Islanders worry that the COVID-19 crisis will severely damage their finances, and nearly a third fear they could lose their jobs, a nextLI survey found.

Thirty percent said their household financial situation has worsened since the pandemic began.

Those indicators of economic anxiety don’t portend well for the region’s economic recovery over the coming months, said Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association, the Island’s largest business group.

“When people don’t have confidence because their personal financial situation is worsening, or they’re fearful that it’s going to worsen, they tend to stop spending on anything that is not essential,” Law said.

That means residents will spend less at restaurants and in stores, and that, for example, may delay homeowners' plans to renovate their kitchen, hurting local businesses, he said.

Other findings in the survey include:

  • 44% of respondents are very optimistic or optimistic about Long Island’s post-pandemic economic future, with 21% pessimistic.
  • 9% said the pandemic had caused them to change their career or job plans, and 7% said their plans to buy a home had been affected.
  • 17% are somewhat or much more likely to move because of COVID-19.

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The poll, of 1,043 residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties, was conducted between June 22 and July 1 by London-based research and public-opinion group YouGov for nextLI. The nextLI project is a Newsday initiative funded by a grant from the Rauch Foundation, with a goal of stimulating Islandwide discussion on public policy questions.

Noris Alvarez, 34, of Hempstead, who was not part of the survey, used to clean houses three or four days a week.

“Now, there’s nothing,” Alvarez said in Spanish. “The owners of the house, for fear of the virus, didn’t want people in their homes.”

Her husband, a construction worker, used to work full time, but now he works “two days, three days a week, sometimes none,” she said.

The couple has a 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, and Alvarez is expecting another child in November. They’re not sure what they’ll do if things don’t improve soon.

“We had savings, but now they’re gone,” Alvarez said.

Fifty-five percent of Long Islanders said they are fairly or very worried that “my finances will be severely affected” by COVID-19, with 32% worried about losing their jobs.

Those concerns are well-placed, said Gregory DeFreitas, an economics professor at Hofstra University and president of its Center for the Study of Labor and Democracy.

A big chunk of the workforce is in the public sector, and with local governments facing huge budget shortfalls because of plummeting tax revenue, job cuts are a real possibility, especially if the federal government does not provide significant help, he said.

“If you’re a government worker on Long Island, you certainly have a reason to be worried,” he said.

Private-sector employees also have reason to be anxious, he said. Some businesses are barely surviving, it’s unclear how much more the federal government will provide in aid to families and businesses, and the trajectory of the pandemic — and its effect on the economy — is unknown.

“There’s enormous uncertainty as to what’s going to happen,” DeFreitas said.

That uncertainty is reflected in starkly different views among Long Islanders as to where the region’s economy will be in a year. About one in four Long Islanders believe the region will be in a recession or depression in the summer of 2021. But a similar percentage believe the Island's economy will be growing or booming by then.

There is more pessimism looking ahead six months: 35% predict the Island will be in a recession or depression then, and only 14% say the economy will be growing or booming.

Thirty-seven percent of Long Islanders have reduced household expenses in recent months.

Marsha Charles, 48, of Hempstead, spent weeks with no income from a part-time job as a saleswoman at a clothing store and, since the store reopened, she has worked reduced hours. Charles has another, full-time job and is able to handle the reduced wages, but she said her full-time co-workers at the store are struggling.

The pandemic also has altered Long Islanders’ work lives. More than half of the survey's respondents who were employed during the pandemic said they worked from home at some point, and 62% said they want to continue working remotely “even after the region continues to reopen,” with most saying they had a better work-life balance.

Law said managers have told him that productivity hasn’t declined since employees began working remotely, and that could cause businesses to reassess how much office space they need.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of hybrid solutions,” with employees working a few days a week at home, and a few days in the office, Law said.

Another trend that may last beyond the pandemic is the accelerated shift toward online shopping: 57% of Long Islanders said that as a result of COVID-19, they will “make much more use of online shopping/delivery.”

Businesses prefer in-store shopping, because customers may browse and buy additional items, and they may visit multiple stores, he said.

“You’re going to lose that foot traffic,” he said. “It’s going to have a negative impact on our main streets.”

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