Nearly a decade after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Rockaway Peninsula, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli came to the RISE Center in Far Rockaway on Monday, Sept. 12, to release the findings of his new economic snapshot. The report finds positive signs of business and employment growth after the area was deeply impacted by the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic more than two years ago.
“After the devastation of Superstorm Sandy and massive efforts to rebuild, the Rockaways was battered by the pandemic. Now there’s good reason to be optimistic about the Rockaways’ recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” DiNapoli said. “Jobs have returned, and new businesses are opening, adding strength to the local economy. Despite these positive steps, many Rockaway residents remain unemployed and there are stark income disparities between communities on the peninsula. It’s critical that social and economic inequities that existed prior to the pandemic are addressed as part of that recovery.”
The comptroller credited Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson for encouraging his office to create the report.
“From data on healthcare and housing to infrastructure and food insecurity, this report will serve as a helpful tool for informing legislation, programs and resources to improve quality of life in our Rockaway community,” Anderson said. “One of the most glaring things in this report … is the income inequality, the disparities that exist on the peninsula. Here you have one end of the peninsula that increased their income by 45% … and [here] on the other side of the peninsula, people are barely surviving. There has to be a massive redistribution of wealth and resources and I know folks think that’s a controversial statement.”
Anderson called on the government to develop something like the Marshall Plan for the peninsula to address economic inequality.
State Senator James Sanders noted that the comptroller’s report could be looked at through different lenses.
“You can read the report many different ways. You can read the report saying Rockaways is doing really fantastic and on its way. You could read the report and say Rockaways are doing really bad and on their way down. Both are true,” Sanders said. “Now, I believe we are on a positive path toward economic growth and strength with the opening of new businesses and housing development. However, we still struggle with unemployment and transportation among other issues on the peninsula.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards was raised in the Rockaways before representing its neighborhoods on the City Council.
“Forty years of disinvestment on this peninsula is why you see some of the gross inequity that’s pointed out in this report. While today we can’t proclaim victory over inequality in the Rockaways, we can surely point to some key indicators that show we are moving in the right direction.”
According to the report, the Rockaways saw steady business growth since 2000, with the number of businesses increasing by nearly 60% (459 firms) to reach a peak of 1,281 firms in 2021. This was substantially greater than business growth in the borough of Queens (43.8%) and the city as a whole (28.5%). Almost 82% of the businesses on the peninsula were microbusinesses, defined as having fewer than 10 employees. As of 2021, retail trade accounted for the largest number of firms, followed by health care, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services.
“Though geographically isolated from transportation hubs, eastern Rockaway communities remain economically resilient, increasing by nearly 60% since 2000, with a burgeoning small business community,” Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers said. “Steady employment and population indicators show eastern Rockaway continues to progress; however, more must be done.”
Specifically, Brooks-Powers looks toward strengthening public health and physical infrastructure to accommodate the growing community. The borough president agreed.
“I am just so proud of this community because it seems like every time we’re punched in the gut, we get up. I don’t know a community more resilient than the Rockaways,” Richards said. “When you look at the hurricane, when you look at the pandemic, we’ve just gotten up time and time again and I think that the numbers here today while we’re not screaming a home run, we’re certainly on second and heading to third base to ensure this community is left better than we found it.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.