New report showcases the diverse set of roles immigrants play in Long Island’s economy
Anthony Capote, [email protected], (305) 878-3177 (También en Español)
David Dyssegaard Kallick, [email protected], (646) 284-1240
Immigrants account for nearly 1 in 5 Long Islanders, and for an even higher share of Long Island’s labor force and resident economic output, according to a new report by Immigration Research Initiative (IRI). The non-partisan think tank used the most recent data available from the Census Bureau to analyze where immigrants live, what types of jobs immigrants do, and how much economic success immigrants achieve on Long Island.
“Immigrants are present throughout Long Island’s economy,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, coauthor of the report and director at IRI. “Most immigrants in the region have at least middle-wage jobs and some do very well, economically. Immigrants often work as managers, software developers, and even as chief executives of local companies.”
IRI found that 60 percent of Long Island’s immigrants who work full-time jobs are in middle- or upper-wage jobs—49 percent are in middle-wage jobs, earning between $48,000 and $140,000 per year, and another 11 percent are in upper-wage jobs earning over $140,000. These wage tiers are based on the Long Island median wage for full-time workers: low wage is defined as less than two thirds of the median, middle-wage is between two-thirds and double the median, and upper-wage is over double. The study focused on full-time work since annual earnings do not give a good picture of the wage level of part-time workers.
“By far, the most common upper-wage jobs for immigrants are in the healthcare fields,” said Anthony Capote, a senior policy analyst at IRI and co-author of the report. “Thousands of immigrants work tirelessly as physicians, surgeons, and registered nurses to keep Long Islanders healthy year-round.”
That’s not to say, however, that the news is all good for Long Island’s immigrants. IRI found that 40 percent of immigrants in Nassau and Suffolk counties made less than $48,000 per year, as did 26 percent of U.S.-born workers. While $48,000 may be enough to get by in many parts of the country, the high cost of living on Long Island makes it hard to make ends meet on that salary. The Economic Policy Institute estimates the Long Island cost of living to be $53,000 for a one-person household, and $174,000 for a family of four—far higher than for the U.S. overall.
“By definition, some people will always fall into the lowest rungs of the economy,” Kallick added. “But it is just not necessary for anyone to make less than two-thirds of the median income.”
The report found that immigrants making low wages are often concentrated in service and transportation jobs that help keep daily life functioning smoothly in Long Island’s communities every day. Immigrants make up, for example, 43 percent of all service workers, including 74 percent of maids, 57 percent of nursing assistants, and 64 percent of cab drivers. These are some of the lowest-paid jobs in the region, but they have an immediate impact on everyday life.
“The simple truth is that immigrants are largely responsible for providing the labor that keeps our economy running,” Capote said. “Without immigrants from all walks of life, Long Islanders would have a very hard time going out to eat, caring for their sick and aging loved ones, and keeping their homes clean. Long Islanders should be more focused on protecting these workers than trying to force them out of their communities.”
The report was funded by a grant from the Long Island Community Foundation (LICF), a division of the New York Community Trust. The public charity provides grants to local organizations who work to improve the lives of all Long Islanders. Sol Marie Jones, a senior program officer at LICF, said she was excited to see how local partners use IRI’s report to better inform Long Islanders about the role immigrants paly in their communities.
“Our immigrant neighbors have always contributed greatly to Long Island’s rich culture, vibrant economy, and quality of life. The Long Island Community Foundation is proud to have supported this useful research,” she said. “We hope that the data will inform inclusive policies and practices so that all Long Islanders can reach their full potential and continue to strengthen our region.”
Sandra Dunn, associate director of Organización Latino Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island, noted: “As a Latino-focused advocacy organization, we appreciate having updated, accurate information about Long Island’s immigrant population. Having this data at our fingertips is critical to our work at OLA. The report’s analysis of many different factors helps us all have an understanding of our community, our workforce, and our local economies that is rooted in fact, not fiction, and in statistics, not fear.”
The report also highlights economic disparities across racial and gendered lines on Long Island.
“Immigrants are disproportionately trapped in low-wage jobs, but they are hardly the only ones,” Kallick added. “U.S.-born workers, too, are often caught in poorly paid jobs—that is especially true for women, and for Black and Latinx Long Islanders whether or not they are immigrants.”
While 26 percent of U.S.-born Long Islanders made less than $48,000 per year, IRI’s report found that white people experience far greater economic success than workers of color, especially women. More than 35 percent of Long Island’s Black and Latinx residents earn these low wages, regardless of where they were born. And women across do less well than men, with Latina immigrants having, by far, the worst economic outcomes.
“Two-thirds of Latina immigrants don’t make enough money to get by in Long Island’s economy,” Capote said. “Anyone who works a full-time job should be able to provide for their families, but we force women, immigrants, and people of color to survive on poverty wages.”
Quotes from Other Partners:
“This report allows us to understand the very important nuances to the immigrant story on Long Island and further illustrates how people new and not so new to this country continue to excel at all levels of the job market on Long Island. Our views on Long Island about immigrant life and our reliance on the talent at all ends of the economic status reiterates the need for an increased awareness and understanding of the positive aspects of newcomers. At the very same time, there exists an incredible struggle for one third of immigrants who are employed as essential workers to manage financially and provide for their families on lower wages paid through these positions.” – Helen Dorado Alessi, Long Beach Latino Civic Association