Long Island's recovery from pandemic job losses seems to have stalled.
The region's private sector job count decreased by 12,100 between August and September, nearly four times the average loss of 3,400 as seasonal businesses wind down at the end of summer. Higher than normal job losses were concentrated in construction, health care, and leisure and hospitality, said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the state Labor Department’s Hicksville office.
The outsized month-over-month losses — in line with "disappointingly low" job numbers nationally — are due to a variety of factors, including supply chain shortages and delta variant fears, Patel said. Vaccine mandates for health care workers also may have contributed, but the loss of health care jobs is hard to diagnose, she said.
Last month, the Island was 109,200 jobs — 9.5% — below pre-pandemic employment levels in September 2019.
"Private sector employment on Long Island has remained roughly 10% below pre-pandemic levels since January," Patel.said.
While most industries followed seasonal trends, health care, construction, and leisure all saw uncharacteristic losses for the month, according to Labor Department data published Thursday.
Construction lost 2,100 jobs, compared to a more typical loss of 400 between August and September. Leisure and hospitality lost 8,600 jobs, 2,200 more than the typical loss of 6,400.
While most industries have been gradually inching back toward pre-COVID employment levels, construction is one of the few where job losses have widened since the start of this year, Patel said. "Several issues may be to blame, including supply chain disruptions and a tight labor market."
The leisure and hospitality sector’s month-over-month losses, which were largely in arts, entertainment and recreation businesses, were likely due to fears over the spread of COVID-19, said John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group.
"Part of it is probably the spike in the delta variant and rising costs for running a restaurant," Rizzo said, pointing to the higher price of goods like meat and poultry caused by supply chain delays. Additionally, recreation businesses have been facing massive recruiting challenges.
"People in leisure and hospitality are stepping back and looking for higher-paying opportunities," Rizzo said.
Reasons are less clear for the month-over-month losses in the health care sector, primarily in hospital and nursing home settings.
"Health care had a surprisingly weak month," Patel said, losing 1,700 jobs compared to an average gain of 600.
The employment data was collected on Sept. 12, well ahead of the state’s Sept. 27 deadline for hospital and nursing home workers to be vaccinated or lose their jobs. The mandate could have played a small part in the sector’s job losses — potentially in the form of early resignations, Patel said.
Rizzo said while mandates could have influenced some health care workers to exit the industry, it may be more likely that the losses are due to issues like burnout in the face of delta.
"There could be a burnout effect at this point," he said. "They’ve been working hard for a year and a half and then they get hit with the delta variant ... People may want to take a break from that and reassess."