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Island population increases linked to COVID — 2020 Census data reveals many changes

The 2020 U.S. Census data shows a large population growth on Shelter Island, a 36% increase from what it was at the time of the 2010 Census.

The latest figures show that in 2020 there were 3,253 people calling Shelter Island home, up from the 2,392 people on the Island 10 years earlier.

What’s more, projected data in 2019 showed a much smaller increase, with a prediction that the Island’s population would have increased to 2,414, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Why the discrepancy in an only two-year period? School numbers and real estate data tell the story.

In September 2020, school officials were expecting 215 students because of the number of families who had moved to the Island from more congested population areas. By September 2021, with COVID seeming to be declining as a threat, that number had dropped to 190.

Real estate sales were also a key factor in the increase of population. Transfer taxes from the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund in 2020 and well into 2021 revealed a soaring increase in property sales. Income for land preservation and water quality improvement projects almost doubled on the Island and only began to drop to more typical amounts later in 2021.

Median household income was up to $84,643, according to the 2020 Census. But just a year earlier, in 2019, it was projected at $79,8543.

The number of housing structures was 2,731, according to the latest census. In 2010, with so many calling Shelter Island their second home, numbers broke down to an average of 0.87 people per housing unit.

The declining school enrollment shown in September 2021 from the previous September prompted Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., to speculate that more families had to relocate to cities as parents’ abilities to work remotely were declining and they were forced to return to city offices.

Whether the recent spike in Omicron cases will result in a turnaround again remains to be seen. And, of course, the question that informs all changes is whether future variants can be controlled as an endemic, similar to flu, or continue as a pandemic.

Other data from the 2020 Census showed:

• 1.4% of residents without health insurance

• 289 residents listing themselves as Hispanics or Latinos

• 14% of the Island’s population listing their ages between 65 and 74, while 6.6% were listed at ages 75 to 84, and 7.1% listing their ages as 85 or older. Overall, the 27.7% of residents 65 or older is in line with the 2010 data.

• 82.6% said English is the only language they use, while 12.3% reported speaking Spanish; 4.2% speaking other European languages; and 0.9% speaking Asian languages.