LI workers saw slight pay raise in 2010

Total compensation of workers nationally and on Long Island edged up in 2010 over the prior year, perhaps evidence of, as one local expert put it, “the beginnings of a recovery.”

According to statistics released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, total compensation — wage and salary disbursement, plus employer contributions to social insurance and pension funds — grew by 2.2 percent nationally between 2009 and 2010, slightly higher than the 1.8 percent inflation rate during the period.

Nassau and Suffolk counties saw total compensation of workers rise, though Suffolk’s was largest, at 3.3 percent, more than twice the 1.4 percent inflation rate for Long Island.

“The overall figures really reflect the business cycle,” said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group. She was responding to data showing a decline in compensation in the region between 2008 and 2009, followed by the slight increase since, which she said “reflected the beginnings of a recovery.”

Total compensation for workers in Suffolk was estimated at nearly $40.9 billion in 2010, up from $39.6 billion in 2009, according to the bureau’s statistics. Suffolk’s compensation was the fifth-largest among the largest counties in what the bureau called the “Mideast region” comprising New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Delaware. In the region, Manhattan’s compensation was highest, an estimated $279.2 billion in 2010, up from $262 billion the year before.

Nassau’s compensation grew at a slower pace, 1.7 percent — barely above the region’s inflation rate — for an estimated 2010 compensation of $40.5 billion, up from $39.8 billion in 2009, the data show. One explanation for slower compensation growth in Nassau could be that Suffolk has more high-paying manufacturing jobs than Nassau — $4 billion in compensation in the industry in Suffolk versus $1.6 billion in Nassau.

Personnel experts on the Island report seeing more demand from companies to fill jobs, and in some cases higher salaries.

“Employers are more flexible to pay more money to the right person with the right skills,” said Barbara Viola, owner of Viotech Solutions, an information technology staffing and consulting firm in Farmingdale.

Jason Banks, executive vice president for Lloyd Staffing in Melville, said, “There is definitely more activity in the marketplace,” Banks said, “definitely more demand for talent in the marketplace.”

Kamer said the growth in compensation represented a “real increase in purchasing power” since the increase was slightly greater than inflation. She added, however, “that doesn’t mean consumers spent that increase. They may have paid down debt. This is why sales tax revenue is relatively flat.”

The data also provided compensation by industry, with government — particularly at the local level — and the “health care and social assistance” industries having the largest payrolls on the Island.

Kamer said government jobs on Long Island number about 208,300 out of 1.23 million total jobs, “so it’s a big chunk of our job base.” And most of those local government jobs, she said, are of “relatively high-paid” teachers.

She saw good news and bad in those statistics.

“Government is a weak point in the economy simply because we don’t have the fiscal capacity to maintain government spending at its current levels,” Kamer said. “Health care is a plus for the economy. It is the only industry that grew throughout the recession on Long Island.”