LI jobless rate down in February from 2012

Job-seekers fill out forms at the Suffolk One-Stop Job-seekers fill out forms at the Suffolk One-Stop Employment Center in Hauppauge in February. Long Island had 16,200 more jobs in February than a year earlier, after January’s gain of 26,200 over January 2012. (Feb. 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

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Long Island's unemployment rate declined to 7.6 percent in February from 7.9 percent a year earlier, the state Labor Department said Tuesday. It was the first decline in the jobless rate since 2011.

The rate still remains at a recession-like level for Long Island. In December 2007 the local jobless rate was 4 percent.

"We're still in that stubborn range," said Shital Patel, a labor-market analyst in the department's Hicksville office.

State data last week showed that the Island had 16,200 more jobs in February than a year earlier. That gain was down from January, which had 26,200 more jobs than the year before.

One local economist cautioned that it's hard to know exactly what the jobless-rate drop indicates. The unemployment rate could fall because of improved employment, but the decline could also reflect rising numbers of people dropping out of the workforce because they couldn't find jobs, such as discouraged workers and laid-off baby boomers who decided to retire. These people aren't counted toward the unemployment rate.

"It's hard to determine if the decline reflects that people are actually getting jobs or [if there are] changes in the labor force participation rates," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the Island's largest business group.

The number of unemployed workers fell to 112,100 in February from 115,200 the year before, according to the latest report, which is based on a survey of Long Island households. The number of employed residents rose to 1.355 million, from 1.345 million. The report includes residents who work on or off Long Island.

The department uses year-over-year comparisons because the employment and jobless data aren't adjusted to reflect seasonal swings.

West Hempstead resident Chris Fidis, 54, who lost his telecommunications project-management job in May, said he sees more activity in the job market. He has had eight interviews in the past month and half, more than he had last year in the months after he was laid off.

"I see the . . . job market opening up," he said.

Long Island's unemployment rate is considerably below New York State's 8.8 percent in February and the nation's 8.1 percent, when calculated without seasonal adjustments.

Hempstead Village had the highest jobless rate in February -- 10.5 percent. The devastation of superstorm Sandy continued to affect Long Beach's unemployment rate. It was 9.9 percent in February, down from 10.8 in January but up from 7.2 percent in February 2012. North Hempstead Town had the lowest rate -- 6.2 percent.

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