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LI jobless rate falls to 5.4%; workforce stabilizes

Jacqueline Campbell, co-owner of Jacqueline's Gift Shoppe in

Jacqueline Campbell, co-owner of Jacqueline's Gift Shoppe in Bay Shore, which has closed indefinitely, sweeps the entranceway.  Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Long Island's jobless rate fell to 5.4% in November, almost a full percentage point lower than the prior month, as the labor force halted its contraction, according to preliminary state data.

In November, 1,356,000 Long Islanders were employed, an increase of 16,400 jobs, or 1.2%, on a month-over-month basis.

Though the numbers are improving, they were underpinned by federal relief programs and fall short of a self-sustaining recovery, said John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association.

"This 5.4% is not as good as it looks," he said. "It's moving in the right direction, but it's still elevated from the ... unemployment rate seen last year."

Small increase in workforce

Formerly unemployed workers numbering 13,300 accounted for most of the new hiring in November, but 3,100 Long Islanders also came off the sidelines to join the workforce, said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the state Labor Department's Hicksville office.

That small increase in November's workforce reversed three straight months of declines, according to the non-seasonally adjusted data.

"In September, the labor force on Long Island fell by a record-breaking 73,100, mirroring large declines in the national data," said Patel.

The shrinkage in the labor force was largely attributed to women who reduced their hours or left their jobs entirely in response to disruptions in day care and schools related to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

The pandemic influenced other parts of the job market as well, with indoor dining restrictions and limited outdoor cold-weather options cutting restaurant employment in November after months of recovery, Patel said.

At the same time, employment in the couriers and messenger industry — which includes delivery drivers — continued to rise in November as demand for online shopping skyrocketed.

Patel said seasonal hiring at retailers such as grocers, warehouse clubs and big box stores such as Target and Walmart also contributed to gains in Long Island employment though job growth at clothing stores continued to lag.

Rates around the Island

Leading the decline in Long Island's unemployment were areas with the region's highest unemployment rates — including Hempstead Village and Freeport Village in Nassau County and Babylon Town and Islip Town in Suffolk County.

The areas with the lowest unemployment rates were: Smithtown Town, 4.4%; Oyster Bay Town, 4.8%, and Huntington Town, 4.9%.

Nassau County's unemployment rate in November dropped a full percentage point to 5.5% compared to the previous month. Suffolk's fell to 5.3% from its October rate of 6.2%.

Those numbers remained far lower than New York State's overall unemployment rate of 8.1% and New York City's 11.8%.

In the pre-pandemic period of November 2019, Nassau posted an unemployment rate of 3.4%, while Suffolk registered 3.5%.

Unemployment claims

In separate data released Wednesday, the state Labor Department reported that new Long Island unemployment claims for the week ended Dec. 19 had dropped by almost 25%, to 4,310, from the week before. The weekly number is still almost twice that of the same week last year, however.

National unemployment data released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Labor painted a mixed picture, with 803,000 Americans applying for jobless benefits, 89,000 fewer than the previous week but more than three times higher than before the pandemic struck.

"Despite the hopes associated with the availability of vaccines and the reopening of the economy, the outlook is for only slow improvement in the job market in the year ahead," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.

A Bankrate survey of economists pointed to a nationwide unemployment rate of 6% a year from now, versus the 6.7% reported for November.

With The Associated Press

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November vs. October unemployment rate

Long Island: 5.4% / 6.3%

Nassau County: 5.5% / 6.5%

Suffolk County: 5.3% / 6.2%

New York City: 11.8% / 12.9%

New York State: 8.1% / 9.0%

Data from the state Labor Department

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