Paula Jean Hinck, director of underwriting operations at Peconic Public...

Paula Jean Hinck, director of underwriting operations at Peconic Public Broadcasting, explains what the station is looking for in a volunteer at the Town of Southampton's 11th Annual Job and Internship Fair. (May 15, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Long Island's employment growth slowed dramatically in April, showing a gain of just 4,500 jobs over April 2011, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

In March, the employment market had 19,900 more jobs than it did a year ago.

The private sector, considered the best gauge of an employment market's health, gained just 5,500 jobs in April, after gains averaging 20,400 in the first three months of the year. It was the weakest private-sector showing for April since 2010.

The government sector lost 1,000 jobs, its eighth consecutive monthly decline. The department publishes year-over-year employment data each month and later computes an average for the year.

A seesaw job market performance was inevitable as the Island continues to recover from the national recession that began in the financial sector, said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association.

"Any recession caused by a financial collapse is generally protracted, weak and bumpy," she said. "And certainly this [report] bears that out."

The unseasonably warm weather earlier this year might explain some of the slowdown, said Shital Patel, market analyst in the Labor Department's Hicksville office. The construction sector, for example, traditionally performs better in April than in the preceding colder months. Instead, the industry posted the largest decline of any sector -- 3,500 jobs.

"The hiring may have been front-loaded early in the year," Patel said. "The typical increase we see in April wasn't there."

Douglas Manditch, chairman and chief executive of Empire National Bank in Islandia, said his 3,000 small- to midsized business clients are showing little interest in bringing on new employees.

"They're not hiring, for the most part," he said. "Business isn't there; revenue isn't there; sales are not there."

But some businesses are hiring, particularly in professional and business services and health care. The professional and business-services category showed the biggest increase of any sector, 6,000 jobs, and has led gains for four straight months. The health care and social assistance subcategory, which grew throughout the recession, had 3,700 more jobs in April, compared with a year earlier.

Healthplex Inc., a Uniondale-based dental HMO, hired more than 100 people after a recent job fair, including customer service representatives, claims processors and dental hygienists, said Dr. Martin Kane, president and chief executive.

The dental insurance provider's customers include unions and some county employees, and it is a benefits provider for the state Medicaid program, Kane said. He said the company is growing.

"We haven't seen a drop-off in business," he said.

The Labor Department will release the April unemployment rate on Tuesday. The Island's jobless rate was 7.2 percent in March, unchanged from a year earlier.

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