In a recent article in Newsday which carried the headline; Poverty rate surprise, State officials considering bids from our region for millions of dollars in grants expressed surprise that our regional poverty level has grown to 6.6%. According to the article, this jump in poverty on Long Island is the highest it’s been since 1959. Well for starters, the Long Island of 1959 or even 1989 no longer exists, and poverty has become a part of our suburban landscape whether we accept this reality of not. When nearly 10% of the population are visiting a local food pantry on a weekly basis, and when some school districts have more than 80% of their student population eligible for the free or reduced school breakfast and lunch program, poverty has sadly become a way of life in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, a Democratic assemblywoman from Brooklyn called the increase in Long Island’s poverty rate “striking.” She stated that, “it’s in contrast to the outside world’s view of Long Island as an affluent place.” Ask our Members of Assembly from districts covering Hempstead, Freeport, Roosevelt, Uniondale, Valley Stream, Elmont, Baldwin, Central Islip, Brentwood, Wyandanch, Riverhead or Hampton Bays, and they wouldn’t find the increase in poverty striking at all. The “pockets of poverty” referred to in the Newsday article are increasing like the bamboo plants in some Long Island backyards, and their seeds are being sown by a lack of affordable housing, low-paying jobs, an increase in immigration, lack of educational opportunities, poor healthcare, aging and NIMBYism which, has become a defining word on Long Island.
The federal poverty rate of $24,600 for a family of four is what defines the 6.6% on Long Island. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when an individual earning $24,600 can’t afford to live in Nassau or Suffolk. What might be surprising is that families earning up to three times this amount or $73,800 annually comprise nearly two-thirds of the families that rely upon their local food pantry and the regional food bank, Long Island Cares for the food they put on their tables. Of the 10% of the population experiencing food insecurity or domestic hunger, 7% are considered to be part of our population referred to as “the working poor.” Families are struggling in middle-class communities like Lindenhurst, Levittown, Bellmore, Deer Park and others, working 2-3 jobs at $15 or less just to keep their families fed, clothed and healthy.
There’s no question that people living in poverty deserve higher paying jobs, educational choice including the opportunity to attend college without filing for bankruptcy, affordable housing, healthcare options, and safe streets just like the majority of Long Islanders. But first, Long Island leaders in both business and government have to accept that not everyone from a poor household is going to succeed in science, technology, math or biotech. People need manufacturing jobs, they need the jobs that were prominent in 1959 and 1969 when Long Island was applauded as the first successful suburban community. Without casting a broader net to bring the poor and working poor, veterans, people with disabilities, immigrants and others into the new Long Island job market funded by the State, our poverty rate will keep rising.
December 8, 2017