Op-Ed

Let’s make sure we count everyone in 2020

Posted

Communities across Nassau County are changing fast. The demographic profile the county comptroller’s office developed highlighted new challenges the county faces so we can deliver the right services in the right way to everyone.

According to research from several organizations, Nassau County is on track to become a majority-minority county in 15 years. This is a nationwide trend, but here it’s happening faster.

Shifts in population can have major impacts on the tax base and the demand for governmental services. To have a sustainable, long-term financial plan that appropriately — and strategically — allocates resources, it is essential to understand the county’s changing demographic composition and where these changes are happening.

You need only look around to see that the county has changed dramatically in recent years. We’re older and more diverse. But while the population changes, the wealth gap between races persists. This threatens Nassau’s long-term economic success, presenting clear obstacles to equity that governments and businesses have yet to overcome.

This is a much different population than the post-World War II suburban developments that sprouted up across Long Island, like Levittown. They were built to cater to the needs of largely white, single-income families headed by young professionals. Now the average age of a Nassau County resident is rising, while the number of young professionals who want to live here is decreasing. The level of education the average resident has attained is impressive, with some caveats.

All of these key metrics are coupled with a historic increase in the diversity of the county. Increasing foreign-born immigration has largely driven population growth in the past 10 years.

These changes haven’t happened seamlessly, as our recent report on black economic equity showed. We put together reports like these not to point fingers, but to turn conversations into action — because action is needed.

Research highlighted by Policy Link and the Urban League of Long Island shows that the Long Island economy could have been nearly $24 billion larger in 2014 if racial gaps in income were eliminated. This is a tremendous amount of missed economic activity.

And as the county ages and its senior citizen population grows, young people are leaving Long Island for areas with more affordable housing options and transit-oriented, walkable downtown communities that better suit their lifestyles. This “brain drain” has real impacts. Without immigration, Nassau’s population would have decreased in recent years. And, to be clear, a shrinking population would negatively impact the economy.

Why? Because the need for government services increases with a growing senior population, but the tax base shrinks as millennials leave. That makes it even harder for young people to rent or buy a home, start a family, and spend what they earn to live, work and play here. That ripple effect ultimately hurts sales tax numbers and weakens the economy.

But while educated young people are leaving, the influx of immigrants is reshaping local communities. Nassau County’s minority population reached 38 percent in 2016, up from 30 percent in 2005. South Asian, Caribbean and Central American groups are bringing their traditional cultures to neighborhoods from Great Neck to Elmont to Hicksville.

And as the population changes, its needs change as well. With the 2020 census, we have a huge opportunity to ensure that we get our fair share of funding to support that population.

The census will be a huge challenge, because more than 300,000 people in the county are categorized as “hard to count.” Some of the hardest to count include young children and those in communities of color and low-income households. It is absolutely vital that we get a complete, accurate count of every resident, so we receive the funding we need to provide the services we all rely on.

The planning for the census has already begun, with the formation of the Nassau Complete Count Committee, a collaboration among government, nonprofit organizations and community groups to make sure we can statistically capture the extraordinary changes that have happened here.

Working together, we will ensure that everyone is counted, that we effectively plan for the future and that we continue to deliver the best services to Nassau County residents.

Jack Schnirman, the former city manager of Long Beach, is the Nassau County comptroller.