Two Long Island business executives, a banker and an economist, think the recovery from the recession is continuing here despite word from the state Labor Department Tuesday that the Island's unemployment rate climbed to 8 percent in July, the highest it's been in nearly two and a half years.
The labor department said the Island had 119,600 unemployed workers in July, up from 115,500 a year earlier. The number of employed workers grew slightly to 1.383 million, versus 1.380 million a year earlier.
Despite the higher unemployment number, the island is adding jobs, said Monte N. Redman, president and chief executive of the Lake Success holding company for the 85-branch Astoria Federal Savings and Loan Association. Redman says he thinks the local economic recovery is continuing, based in part on demand for his bank's business- and real estate-related products.
"I think what we have is a very slow and challenging recovery that continues to muddle along," he said.
Pearl Kamer, economist for the Long Island Association, a business group, says it is common as the economy is emerging from recession for the unemployment rate to rise for a time as a growth in jobs brings out more job seekers.
"It looks bad statistically but it doesn't mean the labor market has deteriorated," she said. "You had people who were discouraged workers jump back into the labor market when we started growing jobs, but only 2,000 found jobs. That's why you have a spike in the unemployment rate."
People are still rejoining the workforce because the economy improved earlier in the year, but that optimism no longer exists in many business owners' mindsets, adds Irwin Kellner, chief economist at MarketWatch.
Just last week, the state Labor Department reported that the Long Island area added only 7,500 jobs in July, compared with last year. Earlier in the year, there were monthly increases of up to 19,900 jobs.
"Businesses have once again slowed down because of uncertainty over the election, and coming tax increases and spending cuts from Washington," says Kellner. "Just as these people decided to re-enter the workforce, they're faced with this new uncertainty."
The weak employment figures may also indicate that, like the U.S. economy, the Long Island regional economy may not have the momentum to break out of a "very tepid recovery," says Herman Berliner, an economist and provost at Hofstra University.
Long Island's unemployment rate is still lower than New York State's 9.1 percent and the national rate of 8.6 percent.
Commack resident David Pesner, 53, isn't a new addition to the ranks of job seekers. He was laid off from his job as a corporate trainer 17 months ago and since then has been looking actively for new employment. Pesner says the job search process has been difficult for him because he does not want minimum wage jobs after having held a midlevel corporate position.
To make himself more attractive to employers, Pesner said he has taken advantage of opportunities at the Suffolk County employment center. The center helped fund Pesner's Project Management Professional certification, which he obtained at Stony Brook University.
Pesner added that he's also met many others in his situation, and they have become a support group for him. "Many of us who were on that middle management level have broken away from the employment center on our own," he says. "We meet on our own . . . go over interviewing skills, cover letters and resumes."