2006-06-09 / Community

Alan Hevesi: Rockaway Relies On Health Care Jobs

Too Many Eggs In Health Care Basket Not Healthy, Expert says
By Howard Schwach

Hospital beds such as this one at St. John's Hospital are Rockaway's main commodity. 
Hospital beds such as this one at St. John's Hospital are Rockaway's main commodity. Health care and social services jobs account for more than two-thirds of all the jobs in Rockaway, according to a recent report issued by New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, far shadowing the six percent of workers who work in retail trade.

Hevesi's report said that 61.1 percent of all Rockaway workers had jobs that related to health care while only 6.1 percent worked in retail and an even smaller group, 5.7 percent, worked in manufacturing jobs.

In all, there were 12,844 jobs in Rockaway, accounting for about three percent of all the jobs in Queens.

One expert, who asked not to be identified, pointed that those statistics as "troubling."

"When you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket begins to fall apart, then you have real problems," that employment expert said, referring to the fact that the Peninsula Hospital Center, the largest employer on the peninsula faces persistent rumors that it will be closed by the state after a review of health care facilities in the region is completed at the end of the year.

He also pointed to the proliferation of health care facilities such as assisted living residences and group homes as an indicator that the problem is not going to go away anytime soon.

"Many of the jobs in those facilities are low paying, entry-level jobs," he added. "They obviously provide a wage to those who work at those jobs, which is important, but they don't do much for the economy of the peninsula as a whole."

In fact, Hevesi says, "While wages increased [in Rockaway] in 2004, the average salary in Rockaway that year was the lowest of any region in Queens."

In fact, the report says that the average salary earned by those who work in Rockaway was $34,217 in 2004, far below that of other regions in Queens and New York City as a whole.

For example, the average salary earned by those working in western Queens (Astoria, LIC, Corona) was $41,140.

Part of the problem that Rockaway faces, according to the report, is that has both a high percentage of those younger than 20 years of age (31.5 percent as against 25.2 percent for the rest of the borough) as well as a high percentage of those over 65 years of age because of the many nursing homes on the peninsula.

Since manufacturing jobs generally pay more than those in the health care area, many in Rockaway are looking to the Arverne By The Sea development to bring those higher-paying positions to Rockaway. A new plant to manufacture and distribute jeans will soon begin development on the peninsula and more than 250,000 square feet of commercial and retail space is planned for the first phase of that project alone. The Arverne East plan will reportedly include an additional 600,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

"That will go a long way to moving some of Rockaway's eggs from the health care basket to other areas," the jobs expert said recently. "That is something that Rockaway has needed for nearly 50 years."

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