A help wanted sign on the north service road of...

A help wanted sign on the north service road of Sunrise Highway in Holbrook on Feb. 17. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Long Island’s economy added 51,000 jobs in January compared with a year ago, though the employment market still hasn’t fully recovered from the pandemic, according to data released on Thursday by the state Department of Labor.

The job gains were strongest in leisure/hospitality, up 21,400 positions, year over year, professional/business services, up 9,200, and public schools, up 6,900.

Shital Patel, a labor market analyst in the department’s Hicksville office, attributed the increased hiring by hotels, restaurants and schools to their continued recovery from coronavirus restrictions that kept customers and students at home in early 2021.

"Local school districts were still pretty much remote last January and restaurants weren’t full reopened," she said on Thursday.

Manufacturing was the only sector that shed jobs last month compared with January 2021: 1,500 positions.

Patel said Long Island’s economy is still short 48,000 jobs, or 3.6%, from its pre-pandemic level in January 2020, "which was a record high level." In December 2021, the Island needed to make up 95,600 jobs.

Among the sectors that have exceeded pre-pandemic employment levels are professional/scientific/technical services, public schools and finance/insurance, she said.

John A. Rizzo, an economist and Stony Brook University professor, said, "The jobs recovery continues." While overall employment is still below pre-pandemic levels, "the gap has narrowed considerably," he said.

"Most of the gap which remains is in the service sector…including transportation and food services," which were hard-hit by COVID-19, he said.

Rizzo and others noted the impact on the U.S. economy from the war in Ukraine is uncertain and layoffs could be in the offing.

"The geopolitical and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine makes any predictions of continued recovery hazardous at best," Rizzo said.

While there were gains year-over-year, on a month-to-month basis Long Island lost 41,700 jobs from December to January. But Patel said that decline was less severe than usual, noting that 51,600 jobs are commonly lost from December to January as businesses shed holiday hires.

"This might suggest that as workers are harder to come by businesses are keeping more holiday workers than they used to," she said.

The Labor Department also said it had revised its 2021 data, finding that the Island had 37,900 more jobs than previously reported for a total of 1.27 million.

With the revisions, the Island had the biggest percentage increase in employment between 2020 and 2021 among New York’s 10 regions: 4.7%. The rise also was higher than the nation’s 2.8% and the state’s 2.6%.

The data "show that we continue to make progress as we put the pandemic behind us," said Matt Cohen, president and CEO of the Long Island Association business group.

"There is still work to be done, but the numbers are encouraging, and it will be interesting to see the impact of lifting the majority of pandemic restrictions on future data," he said.

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