Long Island’s unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent in December, the first drop below 4 percent since 2007, state data released Tuesday show. The jobless rate was down half a percentage point from December 2014, when it stood at 4.4 percent.
Meanwhile, the number of employed residents totaled 1.42 million, up by 57,200, the largest year-over-year increase since 1990, said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the state Labor Department’s Hicksville office.
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“This provides convincing evidence that Long Island’s labor market remains strong and bodes well for consumer spending and economic growth,” said John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group.
The lower unemployment rate came amid continued robust job growth, although that growth has been slowing for the past few months. State employment statistics released last week showed that the Island had 19,900 more jobs in December, compared with the year before. That report focused on the number of jobs at Long Island companies, unlike the unemployment report, which surveys the employment status of residents who work on or off Long Island.
The spike in the number of employed residents and the small decline in the number of unemployed Long Islanders suggest that the unemployment rate improved because of job growth — rather than unemployed workers who stop looking for work because they don’t believe they can find any. Those so-called discouraged workers aren’t included in unemployment data. So higher numbers of them can shrink the unemployment rate even as the employment market declines.
Strong job growth is enticing more of them back into the job market, Patel said.
“People are re-entering the work force and are finding work,” she said.
Patel also noted that the labor market’s strength could result in more employee shortages in the near future and a long-awaited boost in wages, which have continued to stagnate here and nationwide.
“We are already hearing reports of employers having a hard time finding workers,” she said.
The Island’s jobless rate has fallen by more than half from the 8.2 percent peak it reached in the aftermath of the recession.
The Island now has the second-lowest jobless rate among the state’s metro areas, after the 3.4 percent in Ithaca, the home of Cornell University.
Nassau’s rate fell to 3.7 percent from 4.1 percent a year earlier. Suffolk dropped to 4.2 percent, from 4.7 percent. Long Island’s overall rate compared with the state’s 4.7 percent and the nation’s 4.8 percent, without adjusting for seasonal swings in employment. The department uses year-over-year comparisons because the local data aren’t seasonally adjusted.
Around the Island, Long Beach had the lowest jobless rate, at 3.3 percent, and Southampton Town’s 5.2 percent was the highest.