Mike Lementowski founded Long Island First with the goal of examining politics and policy from the perspective of a middle class family on Long Island. He lives in Massapequa Park with his wife and their two young children.
Long Island is among one of the best places in America to raise a family. A strong sense of community built upon a foundation of loyalty and traditional family values combined with the close proximity to beautiful beaches and the greatest city in the world make Long Island an ideal place for a young family to call home.
That is certainly what my wife and I thought as we moved back to her old stomping grounds on the South Shore just three years ago. Our family, however, is quickly becoming the exception, not the rule. Recent census data shows that thousands of Long Islanders are moving away every year. A survey released by the Long Island Index in January showed that 59% of Long Islanders say they are somewhat or very likely to leave in the next five years. That number increases to 71% for young adults aged 18 to 34. Long Islanders are leaving and they are not coming back.
It is no secret why this is happening. Property taxes are among the highest in the country, affordable housing is hard to find and wages have not kept up with costs for most middle class families. When you add a dated public transportation system and a public education system that is more concerned with testing our kids than it is with teaching them, it is no wonder why Long Islanders are in search of greener pastures.
The good news is that it does not have to be this way. There are many examples of regions across America that have created a thriving cultural and economic landscape for a new generation. I grew up outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the collapse of the steel industry devastated the region for decades. People moved away, parents told their kids to go out and find opportunities elsewhere. Today, however, Pittsburgh is a hub of innovation that often appears on “best places to live” lists.
When you look at the positive examples around the country, the clear lesson is that Long Island will begin living up to its promise when its leaders lay out a bold new vision for the future and direct public policy priorities to realize that vision. Long Island’s leaders have failed in this regard, often because their focus is on themselves and their friends instead of middle class families. This led me to start Long Island First.
Long Island First advocates for policies designed to increase opportunity on Long Island while aiming to hold government accountable to all Long Islanders. We can transform Long Island by reforming the property tax system, increasing affordable housing options, attracting innovative companies that bring high paying jobs of the future, modernizing our transportation infrastructure and giving parents and teachers more control over our children’s education. We must eliminate the corruption that has become so ingrained in our political culture. We must give Long Islanders hope that in five years, they will be able to live a comfortable life without having to uproot their families.
Our family loves so much of what Long Island has to offer. We build sandcastles on the beaches, we run and play in the parks and we expand our horizons at the libraries and museums. Kids have a wonderful way of making adults look at life differently. Through their wild imagination and unrelenting optimism, they open our eyes to a future full of hopes and dreams. Let us use that as inspiration as we set out to make Long Island a place that the next generation can happily call home.