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LI employment grew by 17,800 jobs in December from a year earlier

Ronald Torres, 27, from Dix Hills, fills out

Ronald Torres, 27, from Dix Hills, fills out paperwork with Eric Altschuler from FREE at the " Talent Connection" Job Expo, at Farmingdale State College, June 8, 2018. Credit: Linda Rosier

Long Island's job market rounded out 2018 with its best showing in months, state data released Thursday show. 

Nassau and Suffolk counties had 17,800 more jobs in December 2018 than in December 2017, the latest state Labor Department statistics show. That was the fastest pace since April's year-over-year gain of 18,500 jobs. 

The data don't yet reflect the effect of the partial government shutdown because businesses are surveyed during the payroll period that includes the 12th of the month. The shutdown began on Dec. 22.

The Island had 16,000 federal workers in December, according to the latest report, unchanged from a year earlier.

The private-education and health-services sector led employment gains, with 10,300 more jobs, all in health care. Construction came in second with a year-over-year gain of 10,100 jobs.

On the minus side, the financial-activities sector, which includes banking, insurance and real estate, lost the most jobs — 2,900.  

The latest numbers reflect retail's weak holiday season. The sector lost 1,300 jobs in December, compared with December 2017. And retailers hired just 1,000 workers during the prime holiday season between November and December, when the average is 4,300, said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the department's Hicksville office. 

"Weakness was centered in clothing and clothing accessories stores and in the general merchandise category, which includes department stores and warehouse clubs," Patel wrote in her December report.

But she said in an interview that the Island's labor shortage may have contributed to slower growth. The November jobless rate, the latest available, fell to 3 percent, the lowest for the month since 1999.

"The tight labor market may have limited hiring at retailers this holiday season, with fewer workers available to take jobs,” Patel said. 

Another local economist concurred.

"We are already at full employment," said John A. Rizzo,  economics professor at Stony Brook University and chief economist of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group. "It's harder for employers to find specific kinds of workers."  

The Island's private sector added 18,100 jobs, while the public sector lost 300 because of declines in local and state government employment.

The department uses year-over-year comparisons because local data aren’t adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations in employment.

Long Island's 1.3 percent employment growth matched the state's but came in below the nation's 1.8 percent in the same seasonally unadjusted period.

Among the state's metro areas, Ithaca posted the biggest employment gain, 3.3 percent. Elmira's job market contracted the most — down 1.3 percent. 

Looking back at 2018, the employment leaders for the year were health care and construction, with each adding more than 10,000 jobs for the year, compared with 2017 Patel said. 

The Labor Department will release the December unemployment rate on Tuesday. 

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