Long Island Herald: Changing demographics demand new thinking

Changing demographics demand new thinking

5/9/13 [Original article here]

No doubt, Nassau County’s –– and, specifically, the Town of Hempstead’s –– demographics are a-changin’. For 10 years, Hempstead has seen a steady increase in its immigrant population, particularly in Valley Stream, Elmont, Floral Park, Hempstead, Roosevelt, North Woodmere, Inwood and North Wantagh.

As Bob Dylan sang, “Your old road is rapidly agin’.”

The Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group working to ensure that fair election maps are drawn throughout the county, including in the Town of Hempstead. Member groups include Common Cause, La Fuente-the Long Island Civic Participation Project, Latino Justice, the League of Women Voters, Long Island Civic Engagement Table and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

In many parts of Hempstead, more than a third of residents are foreign-born, coming primarily from Central and South America, according to the coalition. Those statistics should be no surprise. From 2000 to 2010, the Hispanic voting-age population grew across the county by more than 45,000, or 48 percent, to nearly 138,500. Hispanics now account for 13.5 percent of Nassau’s voting-age population, up from 9.3 percent in 2000.

A number of South Shore neighborhoods now have Hispanic majorities. The largest population subsets are Salvadorans and Guatemalans, many of whom have escaped abject poverty and brutal war.

Most first-generation Hispanic immigrants are legal, documented workers, United Redistricting says. They come wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families, and so they are willing to work hard building new roofs and cleaning homes, contributing to the local economy.

These newcomers are literally changing the face of southern Nassau County. In a recent analysis, United Redistricting wrote, “Many parts of Nassau increasingly resemble the socio-economic profile of outer-borough New York City: urban density, lower-middle- to middle-class income households, a workforce concentrated in the blue-collar and service sectors, and an increasing core immigrant population.”

Overall, Nassau’s voting-age population is now nearly 24 percent black and Hispanic –– up from 18 percent in the 2000 census. The Asian population is on the rise as well, having grown by more than 30,000 –– a 68 percent increase –– from 2000 to 2010, according to the census. Much of the western half of the county is no longer majority white, United Redistricting says.

There has also been a slow but steady decline in the white population in Garden City, Lynbrook and parts of Merrick and Massapequa, United Redistricting notes.

Nassau’s population remained relatively stable from 2000 to 2010. Without immigrants, however, the county actually would have lost population, according to the coalition.

And, we might add, without immigrants, there surely would have been a far greater drop in property- and sales-tax receipts than we’ve seen, which would have created even bigger budget deficits for our local governments.

All of this implies that we should welcome immigrants, rather than scorn them, as is too often the case. And we should celebrate the growing diversity around us. The U.S. is a strong nation, in part, because we are a blended society that welcomes people from around the globe. In many ways, the Town of Hempstead has become a microcosm of our larger society, and is certainly no longer the lily-white suburb it was when segregation was enforced in certain communities by restrictive covenants in the 1950s and ’60s.

Full integration, though, is a long way off. In the Town of Hempstead, minorities make up 40 percent of the population, but hold only 14 percent of Town Board seats. Both Republicans and Democrats should consider selecting political candidates who reflect the changing face of the county.

At the same time, the Town of Hempstead should consider any and all smart-growth initiatives to encourage developers to construct affordable housing –– meaning small apartment houses in our downtown business districts, near public transportation –– to provide low-cost homes for young people and the construction and service-sector workers who are playing an increasingly important role in the local economy.

It’s a simple formula, really: With more affordable apartments available, more people will move here. They will spend money, and property and sales tax receipts will rise, helping to relieve the tax burden for us all.

Over the next 10 years, local governments could ignore the powerful forces at work, the ever-changing demographics that are shaping and reshaping our communities. They could carry on as usual, pretending the waters around them have not grown, as Dylan might say.

We suggest, though, that they start swimmin’, or they’ll sink like stones.

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