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Long Island lost 262,000 jobs in April, data show

A sign on a closed restaurant on Main

A sign on a closed restaurant on Main Street in Port Washington tells the story of job losses.  Credit: Danielle Silverman

Long Island lost more than 262,000 jobs in April, nearly 20% of the Island's job market, according to state Labor Department data released Thursday.

It was the biggest one-month decline since 1990, when the current record-keeping system began.  

The hardest hit sector was leisure and hospitality,  where the number of jobs shrank by 62%, or 70,300 jobs, compared to March, as the economic shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus shuttered restaurants, bars and other businesses. 

Another 28,710 Long Islanders filed for unemployment insurance last week, up 1,014 from the week before, the department said.  Weekly claims have risen two weeks in a row but are still well below the record high of 59,526 claims filed the week of April 11.

Nearly 316,000 Long Islanders have filed claims since the health crisis began nine weeks ago. 

Nearly 39 million Americans have filed for unemployment during the same period. 

The record number of claims from New York residents at first overwhelmed the state agency's resources, but the backlog of unprocessed unemployment claims is down to about 7,500, the labor department said this week.

The agency has paid more than $10 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 2 million New Yorkers since the pandemic began. That's nearly five times the  $2.1 billion paid out to jobless state residents in all of 2019.

Despite DOL's efforts to process more claims faster, many on Long Island and throughout the state said they've continued to wait weeks for their applications to be approved.

The agency’s current backlog, determined in a DOL analysis conducted last weekend, looks at unemployment and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications submitted before April 22. Applications submitted after that date are not considered part of the  backlog.

The backlog includes duplicate applications, applications that have incorrect or missing information, and applications missing accurate contact information, making follow-up difficult.

“Those claims that have been outstanding for weeks are ones that we simply cannot process,”  state labor commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a statement Wednesday. “We have already attempted to contact all of these New Yorkers, and we will continue to try to get in touch with everyone who applied so we can connect them with the benefits they are eligible for.”

In addition to the backlog, 20,801 individuals have applications that have been processed and approved for payment, but no money has been dispersed because no weekly certifications have been made, DOL officials said 

To receive unemployment funds, claimants must certify each week that they are unemployed.

Another 15,831 applications are going through what the DOL calls “final processing,” where state staffers are checking for potential fraud or identity theft. These claims, if not flagged for additional review, should be payable in the coming days, the DOL said.

While many New Yorkers have secured financial assistance in the wake of the health crisis, Gregory DeFreitas, senior labor economics professor at Hofstra University and director of the Center for Labor and Democracy, said using state unemployment systems as a way to keep American families afloat was one of the major mistakes of the U.S. response to COVID-19.

By using unemployment offices, the U.S. government incentivized struggling businesses to layoff workers, he said. Instead, helping employers fund payroll may have been more effective and easier to implement.

“Unlike other countries we almost encouraged employers to lay off workers and were very late and clumsy – especially at the federal level – in terms of trying to provide assistance to employers so they could keep workers on the payroll,” DeFreitas said. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom "subsidized businesses that kept people on payroll,” he said.

DeFreitas said by relying on unemployment offices, many Americans have been put in a position where they have waited months for aid. 

Subsidizing payrolls “puts you in a much better position coming out of the crisis because the workers are still there,” he said. “Also it would not have led to the shocks to the system that we had in many states’ unemployment offices.”

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