Editorial: People who power small businesses are leaving N.Y. 

A new report by the Manhattan-based Fiscal Policy Institute reads like the proverbial canary in the coal mine story — something that signals danger ahead to anyone paying attention.

The report — issued Dec. 4 and posted on the institute’s website, fiscalpolicy.org — says that the most recent census data, coupled with state tax filings, shows that lower- and middle-income New Yorkers are moving away at the fastest rate of any group.

Who are those people? As reported by The New York Times, “The people leaving New York at the fastest rate last year were families making between $32,000 and $65,000 … They were followed by people earning $104,000 to $172,000 a year.”

Based on U.S. Census data released earlier this fall as part of the American Community Survey, the median household income for all of Suffolk County is $119,838 — meaning half of the demographic group surveyed earned more than that baseline number and half earned less.

American Community Survey data for Southold and Riverhead towns shows the average individual yearly income in Southold in 2022 dollars was $69,912; household income was $103,079. For Riverhead, the numbers were $47,628 for individuals and $88,097 for households.

Southold’s poverty rate was 4.8%; Riverhead’s 9.0%, according to the American Community Survey.

It’s certainly accurate to say that, based on data in the Fiscal Policy Institute report, many North Fork residents fit into the categories that are leaving the state at the highest rates.

What about the wealthiest New Yorkers? They are staying, and their numbers are growing — as seen in the explosion of housing and land prices on the North Fork during the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand was highest. 

According to the Institute, “While New York lost 2,400 millionaire households from 2020-2022, New York gained 17,500 millionaire households in the same period due to a strong economy and rising wages.

“High earning New Yorkers move out of New York State at one-quarter the rate of the rest of the population during typical, non-COVID years,” the report states. Another part of the Institute’s report states, “New York is not struggling to retain the most affluent — New York is losing working and middle-class families.”

What this data means for the East End of Long Island, where tourism drives a huge part of an economy powered by small businesses and tourism-related industries such as restaurants and wineries, will be on every elected official’s desk as we move forward.

We have read and heard numerous stories about the difficulties these businesses have had getting employees at the rates they can afford to pay. High rental costs and astronomical housing costs also impact services like fire departments, all of which on the East End are in need of volunteers. 

This means the very people the North Fork needs to keep moving ahead are the people leaving the fastest. They simply can’t afford to stay, given what they are paid and what things cost here. 

Moving forward, local government must also take a very careful look at businesses that want to locate here and, as part of the review process, want certain tax breaks thrown their way in exchange for promises to increase hiring. 

With other businesses in the area having difficulty finding people to work at lower rates, those promises should be taken with a grain of salt.