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LI sees 'mildly encouraging' drop in unemployment rate, to 12.2%, in May

The new figures reflect the resumption of some

The new figures reflect the resumption of some types of work in May; above, storefronts along Merrick Road in Freeport last month. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Long Island's unemployment rate dropped to 12.2% last month, falling from the record 16.1% rate recorded in April, state Labor Department data shows.

The data captures unemployment in May, when nonessential construction and manufacturing resumed late in the month and some restaurants, retailers and hair salons may have been gearing up to reopen on June 10.

The unemployment rate is an improvement from April, when the state Labor Department reported the highest unemployment rate recorded since tracking began in 1990. But 12.2% unemployment remains high by historical standards — Island unemployment was at 3.8% before the coronavirus began dramatically impacting the economy in March and at 3.2% at this point last year, data shows.

The decline was "mildly encouraging" to Gregory DeFreitas, senior labor economics professor at Hofstra University and director of the Center for Labor and Democracy. He said Long Island businesses may have been encouraged that the region met state health standards required to begin reopening before the city, which hit that milestone in June, and began hiring for the second stage.

"The April unemployment rate on Long Island was … above most of the rest of the state," DeFreitas said. "The rate has come down now."

Statewide unemployment declined from 15.1% in April to 14.2% in May, while the city's unemployment rate rose from 14.7% in April to 18.2% in May, according to state data, which is not seasonally adjusted. Across the nation, the unemployment rate declined from 14.7% in April to 13.3% in May, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which is seasonally adjusted.

Long Island must be careful about containing coronavirus as the region enters the third phase of reopening Wednesday, according to John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group.

"As we reopen the economy, unemployment will decline, but the one thing I'm looking at is: What will happen to coronavirus cases?" said Rizzo. "We have to make sure that people continue to socially distance and wear masks because what's happening in other states where that hasn't really happened and they opened very quickly, the numbers are going way up."

The slight improvement of Long Island's unemployment rate reflects job figures released last week showing 92,400 Long Islanders returned to work in May, according to Shital Patel, a labor market analyst in the state Department of Labor's Hicksville office.

Unemployment rates declined slightly in both counties. Nassau County recorded a 12% unemployment rate in May, down from 15.6% in April. Suffolk County had a 12.4% unemployment rate in May, compared to 16.5% in April, state data shows.

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