Nassau and Suffolk counties had 26,200 more jobs in January than a year earlier, an increase of 2.1 percent, the department said. But a local economist said much of the employment growth was coming from low-paying jobs.
The strong jobs report comes after Northrop Grumman Corp.'s announcement this week that it was moving 850 jobs off Long Island, many of them high-paying engineering jobs. Those plans have fueled concerns about the changing nature of employment here, a change that was accelerated during the recession, said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group.
"It's emblematic of the transformation of the economy toward low-paying jobs away from high-paying jobs," Kamer said. "The upshot is less purchasing power for Long Islanders . . . which means a decline in the standard of living."
The local economy had a total of 1.251 million jobs in January. It took five years for the economy to create enough employment to eclipse the 1.239 million jobs Long Island had in January 2008, the high point for that month reached early in the recession that lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, said Shital Patel, a labor market analyst in the department's Hicksville office.
Employment fell to as low as 1.189 million jobs in January 2010, a loss of 49,800 jobs over two years, Patel said.
The department uses year-over-year comparisons because the data aren't adjusted to reflect seasonal swings in employment.
January's strength was explained in part by increased hiring, and by slower month-to-month seasonal declines, Patel said. For example, retailers hired fewer workers for the holidays, and thus had fewer to lay off in January, she said.
Kamer voiced caution over big swings in reported jobs. She questioned the accuracy of the January data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which took over analysis of local employment statistics two years ago.
"Such a large jump in jobs makes me question the estimating process to begin with," Kamer said. "I don't see a rationale for it in what I know about the economy."
The labor department also released sharp upward revisions in its estimate of jobs on Long Island for all of 2012, saying the Island gained more jobs last year than earlier believed. For November, the department revised its estimate from a loss of 8,100 jobs here to a gain of 11,200. The revisions are based on more complete employer data.
In January, the trade, transportation and utilities category, including retail -- which typically offers lower-paying work -- was the biggest contributor to jobs here, adding 8,500. The second largest job creator was leisure and hospitality, also known for lower-wage jobs. It had 6,900 more.
Manufacturing and the government sector both lost jobs.
Melville resident Peter Rothman, 47, recently found a job after being laid off in September from a high-tech job in Manhattan. On Feb. 1, he started working as the first chief information officer at Alcott HR Group, a Farmingdale human-resources services company.
He credits networking. He serves on a board with Barry Shorten, one of Alcott's co-founders, and they have a previous employer in common.
"The more people you know, the better," Rothman said, "because they can help you find the next job."