On April 19, 2018, the Rauch Foundation released its last Long Island Index report. Since 2013, the Long Island Index has been reporting on how our region is doing in comparison to other suburban regions across the country, and measuring our progress in relation to specific indicators including, affordable housing, transportation, civic engagement, health, educational readiness, conservation of natural resources, and safety net issues among a few others. Over the past 15 years, the Long Island Index has played an important role in setting Long Island on a course of thinking and acting regionally. And, it has provided a formula of data collection and analysis that the region should follow if we are to maximize our potential for economic growth and prosperity for all.
According to the report, Long Island is still suffering a brain drain, as a growing number of young Long Islanders plan to leave the area due to a lack of affordable housing, increasing school taxes and our high cost of living. Segregation in schools and housing must be eliminated, economic opportunities in Biotech and related fields should be enhanced, and we still have a duplicative system of 665 government entities with their own taxing jurisdictions in need of serious consolidation. Fifteen years after the Rauch Foundation published its first Long Island Index report, many Long Islanders continue to feel the economic pinch but, are still willing as of May 15, to vote to increase their local school taxes above the 2% tax cap ceiling enacted in New York State.
Beginning in 2019, Newsday will take over the research role for the Long Island Index as part of its new NextLI initiative, and I anticipate that the same issues that have dominated the research for the past 15 years will most probably be dissected as Newsday moves forward with this effort to define the pros and cons of living and working on Long Island. The Long Island Index 2018 Report is 119 pages of rich text, thoughtful commentary, and attractive tables and graphs. Yet, I’m concerned that only three pages have been dedicated to a discussion about poverty on Long Island and the need for continuing to ensure that a social safety net exists for the poorest among us. When nearly 11% of all Long Islanders utilize the services of a local community food pantry or soup kitchen, three pages seems inadequate to define the real poverty that exists on Long Island where a family of four can earn $75,000 per year, working three jobs and still not earning enough to make ends meet. As the report adequately concludes, “By a number of indicators, the number of low-income Long Islanders and residents in need of basic necessities is increasing.”
Securing the social safety net for Long Islanders in need will be challenging and will undoubtedly be met with resistance by some of our elected officials and the NIMBY movement in our region. As I’ve stated before, two-thirds of Long Islanders utilizing a local food pantry are employed but not earning enough to meet all of their basic needs. While Congress is ready to add a work requirement as a means to receive SNAP benefits, many recipients of SNAP are already working. The most vulnerable neighbors among us, the elderly, disabled, homeless, immigrants, and veterans rely on the safety net to maintain their independence and quality of life. Each year for the past 15, the Long Island Index report has made us think and react to the challenges of life on Long Island. But, we need to be even more proactive when it comes to determining how Long Island will progress during the next 15 years. Congratulations to Newsday for carrying the torch forward, and to the Rauch Foundation for getting us this far.
Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, June 2018