The Island's record-low unemployment rate for April also signals employers'...

The Island's record-low unemployment rate for April also signals employers' challenges in finding, and keeping, workers. Above, a help wanted sign at fabricator Cyncal Steel Corp. in Bay Shore. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Long Island’s unemployment rate fell to 2.7% in April, marking just the third time in over 30 years that the percentage of jobless Islanders has been that low.

The continuing improvement in the job market reported by the state Labor Department Tuesday coincides with increased struggles by employers to fill vacancies.

The region’s unemployment rate has only been this low twice before; once in December 2021, and the first time in December 1998.

“This month’s report was positive on all fronts,” said Shital Patel, labor market analyst with the Labor Department’s Hicksville office. 

The Island's unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half compared with April 2021, when the rate already had dipped to 5%, far below the record high of 18.2% seen during the same month in 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

New York City's jobless rate fell to 5.8% last month, while the state's rate hit 4.2%.

Patel said the recent monthly numbers also show that the Island’s labor force — the total of all those working or looking for work — was higher last month than it was in April 2019, a sign that more residents are stepping off the sidelines and into the job market. The number of employed grew to 1.51 million last month from 1.47 million the same month last year.

Patel said several factors could be contributing to more Islanders entering the job pool, including rising wages and employers’ increasing willingness to be flexible with scheduling.

“People may have seen more incentives to return to the labor market,” she said.

At the same time, employers must compete harder for job seekers in order to fill openings.

Nationwide in March, the latest month for which such data is available, employers had posted a record 11.5 million job openings — roughly two open positions for every one unemployed American, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It seems that we are continuously a person or two short per store,” said Greg Zamfotis, founder and chief executive of Gregorys Coffee, which has 36 locations, including two on Long Island in Melville and Deer Park.

Zamfotis said hiring has become a “one step forward, two steps backward” situation as some workers, after being hired, decide to leave the customer-facing job — some over COVID-19 concerns, others looking for a different kind of work.

“As cases rise … some people just decide they don’t want to be in this environment,” said Zamfotis, who founded the coffee chain in 2006. “We obviously do whatever we can to create a safe environment.”

He said it's also been challenging to compete in a labor market where more employers are offering remote or hybrid work opportunities. As a coffee shop chain, working remotely for most of his employees isn’t an option, he said.

“There used to be a point where we’d put out a job posting and a day later, you’d get 300 job responses,” Zamfotis said. “Today you might get 15.”

John Rizzo, economist and professor at Stony Brook University, said that employers must increase wages, flexibility and benefit packages if they want to be able to compete. 

“Workers are coming back, but it’s going to cost businesses more to fill all those jobs,” Rizzo said. "There’s been an excess of jobs and people are responding to that."

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