Long Island's May unemployment rate dropped sharply to 6.1 percent, from 7.2 percent a year ago, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.
The rate has declined year-over-year for four consecutive months, with the drop accelerating in the past two.
That latest decline comes a week after the department reported strong job growth for May. The economy had 25,300 more jobs last month, compared with a year earlier.
The employment market shows broad signs of recovery. The number of employed people rose to 1.39 million from 1.37 million the year before. For the fourth consecutive month, the number of employed workers has increased while the number of unemployed people has declined, suggesting that increasing numbers of job seekers are able to find work.
That's significant because in some previous months, the number of unemployed workers often declined even amid weak job growth, a pattern that indicated more workers had given up looking for work. So-called discouraged workers, who are out of work but have given up looking for jobs, aren't counted in the unemployment rate.
"The fact that we are now seeing the number of employed increase and the number of unemployed decrease is sort of a sign of a healthy economy," said Michael Crowell, senior economist in the department's Hicksville office.
Although the jobless rate has steadily declined, it remains significantly above the 3.5 percent logged in May 2007, seven months before the recession began.
Likewise, the number of unemployed residents, 90,300 last month, remains well above the 51,100 looking for work six years earlier.
Great Neck resident Fred D. Gordon still finds the job market challenging. He was laid off from a high-tech project management job in June 2011 after six years. After that he landed an 18-month contract project-management job that ended Dec. 31. Despite sending out more than 300 resumes, he is still unemployed. "It's very frustrating," he said.
Martin Melkonian, economics professor at Hofstra University, cautioned that job markets here and nationwide remain vulnerable to uncertainty, especially regarding the deep automatic federal budget cuts. The cuts deprive municipalities of much-need federal funding for infrastructure work that generates relatively high-paying jobs, he said.
"Until we get significant improvement in real wages, this isn't going to be sustainable growth," Melkonian said.
The state Labor Department uses year-over-year data because they aren't seasonally adjusted to reflect normal monthly fluctuations in employment. For comparison, without seasonal adjustment, the U.S. unemployment rate in May was 7.6 percent.