WorldIslandinfo.com / Flickr

And a couple ideas for how it can be saved.

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.

The manufacturing industry jobs decreased dried up the last four decades. (Long Island Index/CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service)

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.

Long Island employment growth is slowing down, and if trends persist it will continue that way over the next 25 years. (Long Island Index/HR&A Advisors, Inc.)

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.

Single-family homes dominate in Long Island (above: 2010). (Long Island Index/CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service)
Multi-family homes have increased since 1970 (top: 1970, bottom: 2010), but not to extent needed to attract new businesses. (Long Island Index/CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service)

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.

The region is losing its young workforce, especially since the 1990s. (Long Island Index/HR&A Advisors, Inc.)

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 Long Island can build on its already-growing biomedical industry, jobs in the healthcare industry can increase further. (Long Island Index/CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service)

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.

About the Author

Tanvi Misra
Tanvi Misra

Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.

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