Long Island unemployment rate drops to 4.5 percent

Job seekers at a career fair at the Job seekers at a career fair at the Melville Marriott on Dec. 12, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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Long Island's April unemployment rate slid to its lowest level in six years, state Labor Department data released Tuesday show. The rate fell to 4.5 percent last month from 5.9 percent a year ago, as more people left the workforce than gained jobs.

People who leave the workforce aren't counted in the unemployment rate. Some of those may have retired, and others, known as "discouraged workers," may have quit looking for jobs.

The number of unemployed residents on Long Island fell by 21,500, or 25 percent, to 65,900. Meanwhile, the number of employed residents inched up by 6,900, or 0.5 percent, to 1.40 million.

"It's good that the unemployment rate is going down," said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the department's Hicksville office. "But it's not so great that it's happening because people are dropping out of the labor force."

Said John A. Rizzo, chief economist of the Long Island Association, the Island's largest business group, "If you factor in discouraged workers and people who are underemployed, the unemployment rate on Long Island and elsewhere would be considerably higher."

The substantially lower unemployment rate also came amid slower job growth last month, when the Long Island economy had just 10,500 more jobs than a year earlier, the department said last week. Job growth also slowed in March, when the Island had 10,600 more jobs than a year earlier, the smallest increase in a year.

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

Many job seekers still find the employment market challenging. Joanne Grunwald has been job hunting since January, when she lost her "dream job" of more than 30 years in the meeting and events department of the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in Manhattan. As a manager, the Baldwin resident traveled a lot and worked from home after 9/11. But her department was outsourced and she lost her job.

Finding new employment for the 54-year-old hasn't been easy because of intense competition from many other job seekers and a lengthy interview process that seems to be the norm in the post-recession job market.

"The process is extremely time-consuming," she said. "There's no sense of urgency" on the part of employers.

On Long Island, Rockville Centre had the lowest unemployment rate, 3.4 percent. Economists traditionally consider rates below 4 percent full employment. Hempstead Village had the highest jobless rate -- 5.9 percent.

Among the state's major metropolitan areas, Long Island tied with the Putnam-Rockland-Westchester area for the second-lowest rate. The lowest was Ithaca's 3.5 percent.

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