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Labor Dept.: LI job market strong in March

Job seekers crowd a hall at the Melville

Job seekers crowd a hall at the Melville Marriott Long Island Wednesday for a career fair sponsored by Newsday. Twenty-eight companies exhibited at the event. (April 18, 2012) Credit: Charles Eckert

The Long Island employment market, putting in its strongest showing so far this year, had 19,900 more jobs in March than it did a year ago, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

The private sector had 20,100 more jobs. But the public sector shrank by 200, cutting the total employment gain to 19,900 jobs. Overall, losses in the government sector have narrowed considerably the past two months, but declines in jobs in local education remain significant -- 3,500 in March. The losses reflect layoffs at public schools.

The government sector's declines have in part slowed the local employment market's effort to regain jobs lost during the recession. The Labor Department announced that the state had regained all the private-sector jobs lost during that downturn, which began in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009. Long Island has yet to reach that milestone.

"We're working our way back, but we don't happen to be there yet," said Shital Patel, a labor market analyst in the department's Hicksville office.

The Island now has 1.026 million private-sector jobs, up from 1.006 million a year ago. The number is still considerably off the peak for March reached in 2008: 1.048 million private-sector jobs. The falloff afterward was so steep that by March 2010, the Island had just 991,900 jobs, the lowest for March during the post-recessionary period.

The Labor Department uses year-to-year comparisons for local data because the statistics aren't seasonally adjusted to account for unusual monthly swings. The data are preliminary and subject to revision.

For the third straight month, the professional and business-services category was the fastest-growing sector, up 10,100 jobs. It is also one of the highest-paying categories. That improvement reflects the increased demand at least one staffing company is seeing.

Adecco, whose North American headquarters is in Melville, has seen a "good uptick" in requests for people to fill jobs in customer service, administration and clerical, and accounts payable and receivable, said Anthony Zarb, a senior branch manager based in Melville. "The service sector seems to be gaining traction again," he said.

Another bright spot in the latest report was the financial activities category, which includes banking and real estate, and is the Island's highest paying. It gained 2,900 jobs in March, after being devastated in the financial and housing meltdown.

"I think we are seeing the financial sector on a stronger footing than they were in the last two to three years," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist of the Long Island Association.

On the other hand, construction had the largest declines in March, down 3,600 jobs, reflecting continued weakness in the housing market.

The department will release the March unemployment rate on Tuesday. The Island's jobless rate was 7.8 percent in February, up slightly from 7.7 percent a year earlier.

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