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LI jobless rate falls to 6.6 percent

Above, Victoria Toulis, who attended Nassau Community College,

Above, Victoria Toulis, who attended Nassau Community College, walks through a job fair there last month. (April 7, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island's unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent last month, the first time it has dipped below 7 percent in two years, according to New York State Labor Department data released Tuesday. 

The rate declined from 7.1 percent in March, and is the lowest since it hit 6.8 percent in April 2009.

Though good news for a job market that's still trying to recover from a deep recession, the unemployment report is mixed overall.

Despite the declining rate, for example, the number of employed workers actually dropped, suggesting a rise in discouraged workers, or those workers who aren't included in unemployment statistics because they have given up looking for work. The Island had 1.352 million employed workers in April, compared with 1.366 million a year earlier.

"It does point to people leaving the labor force, which is quite possibly discouraged workers," said Michael Crowell, a senior economist in the Labor Department's Hicksville office.

Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College in Oakdale, expressed skepticism about the rate and estimated that it would rise to at least 7.1 percent if it included discouraged workers.

"As disheartened workers who can still contribute to the workforce decide to retire, sit idle or age in place on Long Island, they have become Long Island's shadow unemployed, wanting to work but with skills irrelevant to today's workforce requirements," he said.

The state Labor Department doesn't compile local data on discouraged workers. The United States had 989,000 discouraged workers in April, down 208,000 from a year earlier, but more than double the 363,000 discouraged workers in December 2007, the month the recession began, federal data show.

Bellmore resident Joyce Fox, 56, isn't a discouraged worker, but few could blame her if she were. Fox has been unemployed since October 2009, when she lost her job as a legal secretary at a local law firm after three years. It was the second time she had lost a job in six years. She has been on seven or eight interviews in the past month alone. But she said her 30-plus years of experience works against her in a market filled with other jobless people.

"They'll hire someone else who is younger or someone who says right off the bat they will accept a lower salary to do the same job," she said.

The latest jobless rate is twice the 3.3 percent pre-recession rate the Island had exactly four years ago, in April 2007. 

Photo: Victoria Toulis, who attended Nassau Community College, walks through a job fair there on April 7, 2011.

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