In a recent report published by the Long Island Association entitled; Poverty on Long Island: It’s Growing, as of 2015, the number of people living on Long Island whose annual incomes are below the federal poverty level of $24,250 for a family of four has increased by 32,953. According to the report, this figure would equate to 185,415 people living in poverty on Long Island. Since the federal poverty rate doesn’t distinguish the cost-of-living rate by region the LIA factored this into their report by adjusting the rate upwards by 30% which resulted in a total of 241,408 people living in poverty in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. By reconfiguring the federal poverty rate from $24,250 to $31,382 for a family of four we’re still missing the mark in attempting to define poverty on Long Island.
Trying to describe poverty on Long Island requires that we strike a balance between what the policies state and what is happening in actuality. In actuality, people living at 200% above the federal poverty level or earning $48,500 for a family of four are living poor on Long Island. In fact, an individual earning $48,500 on Long Island is part of the growing number of the “working poor.” A young professional earning $933 per week and having to pay for a monthly ticket on the LIRR, purchase clothing, food, gas, pay for car insurance, health insurance and have a social life is still living at home with his/her parents and struggling on Long Island. If you take away the cost of an LIRR ticket and apply that to an average monthly rent of $1,800 for a one bedroom apartment, that person cannot make it on Long Island alone. Compound this by a family with 1-2 children, and even add an additional $12,000 to their income of now $60,500 annually, and that family is still living poor on Long Island when factor in expenses.
There’s no surprise to the LIA findings that there is less poverty in Nassau than in Suffolk. Suffolk has more land to develop affordable rental apartments, the cost of gas is less than in Nassau, there is more industry in Suffolk therefore more job opportunities. Anytime, the business community shines a light on the issue of poverty is a positive sign that our region recognizes the problem and its impact upon our local economy. Living in poverty or living poor is not good for the Long Island economy. Public entitlement programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, public assistance, Medicare and others are limited in relation to what a person can afford. Living poor requires a family to purchase only the necessities, and when more is needed such as food, clothing, personal care items and household supplies, they might turn to the local food pantry, soup kitchen or other social service program. Right now, approximately 210,000 people earning between $31,282 and $60,500 a year are turning to the emergency food network supported by organizations like Long Island Cares based upon a report by Feeding America that describes a total of 316,000 Long Islander’s impacted by food insecurity in 2016.
We cannot end poverty on Long Island and so far, we’ve not been able to lift too many of the “working poor” out of their situations with good paying jobs and affordable housing but, we can make a difference for our neighbors in need of food. As a member of the HIA-LI, you can participate in the HIA-LI Summer Food Drive from June 1 through August 31 by donating non-perishable food or writing a check. The business community can come together to make sure that those in need have access to the basic necessity of a healthy meal on their table just by donating a box of cereal, can of tuna, package of pasta, jar of tomato sauce, bag of rice or by donating $10.00 which can provide 12 nutritious meals for a family in need. Join the drive at www.hia-li.org/hia-li-events/annual-food-drive
Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, June 2017