LI jobless rate at 6.2 percent in February

Job hunters use computers to search for jobs Job hunters use computers to search for jobs on March 21, 2014, at the Suffolk County One-Stop Employment Center in Hauppauge. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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Long Island's unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent in February, from 7.3 percent in February 2013, state Labor Department data released Tuesday show.

Despite the year-over-year improvement, the February rate marked the first month the local unemployment rate has been higher than 6 percent since August.

The latest rate reflects weaker job growth for February. Last week the Labor Department said the month had just 13,600 more jobs year over year, possibly because of the snowy and bitterly cold winter. By contrast, January data showed 17,500 more jobs than a year ago.

The department uses year-over-year comparisons because the local data aren't adjusted to reflect seasonal swings in employment. Because of that, it's difficult for economists to determine from a single report whether the decreased job growth in February stemmed from severe weather or a slowing economy.

"I wouldn't place too much significance right now on the fact that the rate is above 6 percent," said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the department's Hicksville office. "I would like to wait to see if the bad weather in February had any impact."

But one local economist believes the economy here could be slowing because of flat wages and a slow-growing residential real estate market.

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"We're in a flat moment, and I don't see anything that is going to lift us out," said Martin Melkonian, associate economics professor at Hofstra University.

The number of employed residents in February grew by 11,000 from a year earlier to 1.373 million. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed dropped by a bigger number -- 17,100 -- to 90,800. The discrepancy could suggest that some people stopped looking for work and thus weren't included in the jobless statistics. They may have included discouraged workers who believed they couldn't find a job; people who stopped job hunting because of the weather; new retirees and people going back to school, Patel said.

The Island's February jobless rate was considerably lower than the state's 7.7 percent and the nation's 7 percent, both based on unadjusted data.

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Among Long Island's incorporated areas, Rockville Centre's 4.7 unemployment rate was the lowest and the only one below 5 percent. Hempstead Village had the highest: 8.8 percent.

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