Long Island had 26,500 more jobs in December than a year earlier, the latest sign of the local employment market's continued strength, state data released Thursday show.
The 2.1 percent increase compares with 1.1 percent for the state and 1.6 percent for the nation on a year-over-year basis, the Labor Department said. As of last month, the Island had 1.31 million jobs, up from 1.28 million the year before.
The professional and business-services sector, one of the highest-paying here, continued to lead job increases, with 8,300 more jobs compared with a year ago. The sector, which includes lawyers and accountants, has led gains in five of the last six monthly reports.
That milestone is significant because until recently Long Island's recovery from the recession was largely marked by the rise of lower-wage jobs. But the strength in professional and business services and in other higher-wage categories like construction are helping to turn that tide.
Construction had 4,400 more jobs than a year ago, and the gains represent increased activity beyond superstorm Sandy repairs, said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the department's Hicksville office. She cited hospital expansions and multifamily-home construction.
"I think there's a lot of foundation to the growth that should continue over several years at least," she said.
John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the Island's largest business group, expects job growth overall to continue because of reports showing positive sentiments among local consumers, businesses and government officials. "I think there will be continued job growth on Long Island," he said.
The second-highest job gainer, the private-education and health-services sector, grew by 8,100 jobs.
Central Islip resident Jen Norton found a job last month in that sector. The special-education teacher was hired at Pal-O-Mine Equestrian Inc., an Islandia nonprofit that uses horseback riding to help the developmentally disabled.
Norton, who has a master's degree in special education and a bachelor's in animal science, said the job is a perfect fit for her. She learned about the business when researching jobs that combined her expertise.
She decided on that strategy after moving back to Long Island from North Carolina a year ago and not being able to find a permanent teaching job. "Research what your true passion is," she advises other job seekers. "This is definitely a passion for me, working with kids and working with horses."
Some key sectors lost jobs. For example, manufacturing, a high-wage category, lost the most, down 1,900 jobs, compared with a year ago.
The Labor Department uses year-over-year comparisons because local data aren't adjusted to reflect seasonal fluctuations.
It will release last month's jobless rate on Tuesday. November's rate tumbled 1.7 percentage points from a year ago, to 5.4 percent.