Long Island added nearly 23,000 full-time residents in the first...

Long Island added nearly 23,000 full-time residents in the first two years of the pandemic, even as others left the region. Above, a view of East Meadow. Credit: Chris Ware

Long Island added nearly 23,000 taxpaying full-time residents during the first two years of the pandemic, even as others left the region in droves, particularly New York City, according to data released Tuesday by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

The report found a massive exodus of resident personal income tax filers — the state's largest revenue source — between 2019 and 2021, particularly in 2020 when the number of residents migrating out of New York nearly quadrupled compared to a year prior.

But Long Island appears to have defied those trends, in part because of residents relocating to the suburbs of Nassau and Suffolk counties from the city, which had become the global epicenter of the pandemic.

More taxpayers

The number of Long Island income taxpayers living full-time in the region grew by 2.4% from 2019 to 2020, from 1,468,127 to 1,503,626. Those numbers dipped by 0.83% in 2021, down to 1,491,063 tax filers, the data shows.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A report issued by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli Tuesday found a massive exodus of resident personal income tax filers leaving the state during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Long Island appears to have defied that trend in 2020 and 2021, with its population of full-time tax filers growing by 1.5%, or a total of nearly 23,000 people, during that two-year period.
  • A majority of Long Island's new arrivals during the pandemic appears to have migrated from New York City, where two out of every 100 residents moved out in 2020 alone.

In total, the region added 22,936 personal income tax filers during the two-year period, or a growth of 1.5%, the report shows.

“The pandemic resulted in a large number of people seeking our suburban region, particularly in Suffolk County which has more available land and where many New Yorkers have second homes," said Matt Cohen, president and chief executive of Long Island Association, the region's largest business group.

"Long Island offers a terrific quality of life," Cohen said. "However, it is critical that we address the cost of housing and overall affordability or else the COVID increase will be an anomaly and the population trend will go back in the wrong direction.”

Enhanced unemployment benefits and record financial market levels in 2020 may have also resulted in some Long Islanders filing personal income tax returns that were not required in years prior, DiNapoli' s office said.

But policy experts suggest Long Island's taxpayer population increase, particularly during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, stemmed largely from an influx of residents of New York City, where two out of every 100 residents moved out in 2020, according to the data. The city regained a small portion of its taxpayers in 2021 but the numbers were still down significantly from pre-pandemic levels. 

Moving to the suburbs

Ken Girardin, director of research for the Albany-based Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, said the pandemic likely accelerated plans for many city families to relocate to the suburbs.

"A lot of the increase were moves that were going to happen anyway," said Girardin, who believes Long Island will likely return to its pre-pandemic norms in 2022 and 2023. "One of the big common trends into the New York City suburbs is two married professionals living in the city. They have a baby and say, 'I want a yard and I want to be able to walk to school.' So where do they move? They move to Long Island, to Westchester and to North Jersey."

In addition, another 12,000-plus New York City part-year taxpayers, who do not live in the five boroughs year-round, moved to Long Island in 2020, along with another 10,000 in 2021, the report shows. Those numbers are the highest of any region in the state and far surpassed figures from 2019.

The migration of residents out of New York State is not a new phenomenon. 

In a typical year, the number of personal income taxpayers in the state has fluctuated because of a host of factors, such as marriages, divorces, job attainment and loss, immigration, births and deaths. 

From 2015 through 2019, an average of 28,700 more taxpayers left the state than moved here, the comptroller said.

But during the first year of COVID-19, those numbers changed dramatically, with the state losing a net total of 112,500 tax filers in 2020, investigators found. That's almost four times the number of one year earlier and translates to more than 1 in every 100 personal income tax filers leaving the region, the data shows. 

Population rebound

New York experienced some rebounding of its population in 2021, but in total, saw another 39,200 residents leave the state, the report states.

“The pandemic upended everyone’s life and caused a big shift in the movement of New York taxpayers in 2020,” said DiNapoli, a former state assemblyman from Nassau. “While patterns shifted closer to pre-pandemic trends in 2021, net out-migration rates remained higher, particularly for families."

Single filers accounted for more than half of the out-of-state migration in 2020, although married couples, particularly those earning between $100,000 and $500,000, also left at elevated numbers both years, the report shows.

"Policymakers need to make sure the state remains an attractive, affordable place to work and to live," DiNapoli warned. "Doing so will help maintain the state’s largest revenue source to ensure vital services continue in order to provide a high quality of life for all New Yorkers.”

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