We know who we are. We are an island of dreamers. We sent men to the moon and Charles Lindbergh to Paris. We inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and the poetry of Walt Whitman. We are Nobel Prize winners and an American president. We are Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano. We live in the shadows of the biggest metropolis in the nation, and the beaches that Marilyn Monroe and Elie Wiesel once called home. We are Hollywood’s summer destination. Our hometowns define suburbia. We are a microcosm of the American dream.
But to those looking at us from the outside, the Internet tells a different story.
A Google search portrays an island of strip malls and 7-Elevens, void of culture, home to the Long Island Lolita, bad accents and the Amityville Horror. We are the inspiration for lazy cartoon characters and a national segment on The Daily Show. Our traffic is horrific. We are rich. We are careless. We pay more for less. We are an island of complacency resting on the laurels of our past, with little regard for our future. And it isn’t these stereotypes alone keeping families—and businesses—from relocating to Long Island.
On the Web, as in reality, Long Island is synonymous with the high cost of living. The visionaries who will build Long Island’s future can no longer afford to stay here. Baby boomers are retiring, while the lack of affordable housing coupled with high property taxes is pushing recent college grads to get a greater bang for their buck out of state. Let’s face it: If Walt Whitman were born on Long Island during our lifetime, he would probably be writing Leaves of Grass from a small town in North Carolina.
Love us or hate us, the world is watching.
A Tale of Two Suburbs
“Long Island is located 10 miles from Manhattan…or three-and-a-half hours by car.”
—Samantha Bee, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Janine Santino has never been to Long Island, but that may change in the next six months. Her husband is looking for work in our area, in search of higher salaries, which are tethered to a higher cost of living. And it may involve uprooting their two kids from Virginia to Nassau County, where just a one-bedroom apartment rents for $1,250 and a two-bedroom, for more than $2,000. To find out a little more about the area, Santino went online and searched “moving to Nassau County” and came across a message board—the same one where we found her. She asked for advice. What she received in reply was a barrage of comments, many from out of state, warning about everything from snooty “Manhattanite” attitudes and unfriendly neighbors to traffic and outrageous price tags.
“I’ve basically heard that the people aren’t nice and neither is the traffic,” says Santino. “I really don’t know what to expect, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.”
While traffic and our collective personality can be disputed, taxes are a sobering reality. Nassau County homeowners pay a median $8,153 in income tax, nearly 10 percent of their yearly income, to live here—the fourth-highest rate in the country. Nassau’s property taxes are the second-highest in the nation. According to the Long Island Index, a project that gathers and publishes data on the region, 84 percent of Long Islanders believe that high taxes are an “extremely” or “very serious” problem.
But it isn’t all bad.
Long Island has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and one of the highest per capita incomes, as ranked online by publications like Money magazine, which consistently names LI as one of the best places to live in the United States. In fact, LI is an economic engine for New York State, generating more than $2.8 billion more for the state as a whole than it receives back. Our region’s economic output exceeds that of many countries. Long Islanders also have a reputation as innovators, a reputation local business organizations who actively recruit on the Web, are trying to preserve.
“The future is less about brawn than it is about talent,” says Matthew Crosson, former president of the Long Island Association (LIA). “It is about educating talent, attracting talent, and keeping talent.”
But for the talent looking to move their lives here, it is the contradictory opinions of Long Island, from those who live here and those who don’t, that can make the decision a scary one.
“What I’m most concerned about is making ends meet,” says Santino. “Some say it’s the best place to live, others hate it.”