Construction workers in Hicksville last month protest high unemployment in their industry.

The latest reading on the Long Island job market is due out Thursday and it’s a pretty good bet that number watchers will be scrutinizing the data for more signs that the Great Recession cloud cover continues to break up.

The Island’s economy was down about 10,000 private-sector jobs in February, compared with February 2009. In other words Long Island as of that month had 991,700 private-sector jobs, versus about a 1 million a year earlier.

The Labor Department takes a monthly count of the number of jobs on the Island and compares that number with a year-earlier figure.

That loss is down dramatically from a 33,000 job-count difference in the December 2009 to December 2008 period and down even more significantly form the seven months in 2009 that the Island had year-to-year job total differences of 40,000 plus.

And local optimism is on the rise.

“Business owners are beginning to see some positive things happen,” said Terri Alessi-Miceli, president of the Hauppauge Industrial Association, a business group that represents about 1,000 companies throughout Long Island and 4,500 business professionals.

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Those positive signs, she said, include the “smart energy corridor,” a stimulus-funded project involving LIPA and local colleges to develop a “smart” energy grid for quicker diagnosis and repair of outages and better management of electric use.

But it’s been a slog through the recession, which began in June 2008 on Long Island, six months after the national downturn started. The Island’s unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent in February, from 7.8 in January, and remains at an 18-year high.

And the outlook for job-growth looks precarious for the short term at least. It won’t return until consumers start buying again, which would ignite hiring, said economist Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College in Oakdale.

But consumers are struggling with diminished spending power because of declining home values, high credit-card debt and record unemployment.

“Our economy grew because of debt in the past couple of years,” Cantor said. “There isn’t a new growing power in the hands of consumers anymore.”

So, he added, “The only way to generate new spendable income is to create new jobs.”