While some suburbs are growing pretty fast, Long Island is definitely not one of them. That's what a new report commissioned by the Rauch Foundation's Long Island Index project finds. The work points to three (interrelated) trends that might lead to economic doom for Nassau and Suffolk counties.
1. Extinction of the Manufacturing Industry
Long Island experienced massive growth in the 1950s and 1960s, when suburbs really took off. Good, high-paying manufacturing jobs were available then, especially in the aeronautical and defense industries, says Ann Golob, director of the Long Island Index. "Long Island was being built out like crazy," she says.
But in the last three decades, as more and more jobs have been outsourced abroad, the presence of these industries in Long Island started to shrink. Defense manufacturing company Northrup Grumman, for example, had 22,500 employees in the 1980s; by 2010, this was down to 550, the report says.
Those lost jobs haven't been replaced yet, says Golob, and if they aren't recovered, the job growth will only slow down further in the next 25 years.
2. Missing Out on Multi-Family Homes
Over the years, as other suburbs started building multi-family housing, Long Island remained a kingdom of single-family homes. "Antipathy to multi-family housing is long-standing on Long Island," says Golob. "You often hear the phrase, 'We don't want Long Island to look like Queens.' "
A lot of what's driving that mentality is fear of decreasing property value and rising crime rates. It's also plain old ugly racism, she explains. But the absence of housing and rentals at multiple price points reduces the labor supply; that problem, coupled with high property taxes, can really make the area unattractive to new businesses that might add jobs.
"It becomes a vicious cycle," Golob says.
3. The Exodus of Young Workers
The above two reasons have pushed young people out of the region, especially since the 1990s. By 2010, according the report, 25 to 34-year-olds made up just 11 percent of the total population of Long Island, down almost 5 percent from 1970. Until young people find a reasonably-priced place to live (other than their parent's basement) or can afford to pay the area's high rents, they're going to keep moving elsewhere.
But There's Still Hope
One fix the report recommends is just to create more multi-family housing options in Long Island town centers. The second is that the region should play to its strengths—build on industries that show potential, says Golob. The burgeoning biomedical industry, for example, can be leveraged to create more healthcare jobs.
If these solutions play out well, the report predicts a different future for Long Island: By 2040, the region could gain up to 73,000 new jobs, 23,000 new young residents and $15 billion in the region's pocket.
Play with the map feature compiled by Steve Romalewski at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service to see how Long Island has changed in the last 40 years.