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LI added 12,600 jobs in May, led by hiring of restaurant and bar workers

Gold Coast Surfside Deli in Huntington was among

Gold Coast Surfside Deli in Huntington was among the eateries seeking workers this month. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Long Island’s job market added more than 12,500 jobs last month, led largely by gains in the leisure and hospitality sector in its run-up to the summer season, according to state data.

In May, the Island saw a modest 12,600 gain, a 1% increase, in the number of jobs month-over-month from April, the state Labor Department reported Thursday. In total, Nassau and Suffolk counties were up to 1.24 million jobs last month, still below pre-pandemic levels.

Last month's net increase in jobs is below the average gain of 15,500 typically seen each May, said Shital Patel, labor market analyst with the Labor Department's Hicksville office. However, when considering the above average hiring levels in March and April, the Island is actually in line with typical hiring numbers this time of year.

"As COVID-related restrictions began to lift in March and April, Long Island’s labor market experienced above average job gains adding a total of 28,500 jobs compared to an average of 17,000" for the two months, Patel said. "In May, job growth reverted to a more normal pace."

In April 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Island lost 270,700 private sector jobs. While Long Island, like the country overall, has gained significant ground in recouping jobs since then, the Island remains 114,000 jobs, or 9.9%, below private sector job levels in May 2019.

Leisure and hospitality, which added 6,400 jobs from April into May, had the largest job gains on the Island last month of any sector. The gains were due largely to increases in restaurant and bar work, which added 3,500 jobs, close to the 3,900 average job gain.

Although the sector has seen significant gains over the last three months, Patel said, job totals have yet to rebound to pre-pandemic levels, with employment at restaurants still 15,900, or 16.0%, below the number of jobs in May 2019.

Patel said the reason hiring has increased faster for leisure businesses in recent months is that in many ways the sector has been playing catch up, having been "the hardest hit during the pandemic."

Despite seeing accelerated hiring, restaurants and bars are struggling to find enough staff.

John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group, said those staffing issues are likely to continue going forward and will place pressure on the hospitality sector to offer higher wages.

"Wages are going to be go up in leisure and hospitality," Rizzo said. "The question is how easily can businesses in that sector pass on those increases in terms of prices."

Given pent-up consumer demand and the desire to travel, Rizzo said its likely any increase to wages will be offset by revenue generated this tourism season. But in the long run, it's less clear what the outcome will be, he said.

"In the very short term I think they can do it. The summer season is going to be very good on Long Island," he said. "But over a longer term, the ability to increase prices in a discretionary sector like leisure and hospitality is limited."

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