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LI jobless rate holds steady at 3.9%, suggests full employment

People wait in line to talk to recruiters

People wait in line to talk to recruiters for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on April 26, 2017, during a job fair at Newsday in Melville. Credit: Ed Betz

Long Island’s unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in April, unchanged from April 2016, state data released Tuesday show.

Some local economists believe the rates are steady because Long Island has reached full employment — meaning that the jobless rate is about as low as it will go. Full employment is classically defined as an unemployment rate of 4 percent or below.

“I would say that we’re bumping along the bottom here,” said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the department’s Hicksville office.

John A. Rizzo, a Stony Brook University professor and chief economist for the Long Island Association trade group, went further: “I wouldn’t expect the unemployment rate to go down from here.”

Other measures in the latest Labor Department report were little changed. The number of unemployed residents edged up by 500 in April from a year earlier, to 57,300. The number of employed residents dipped by 800 to 1.41 million.

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

The latest report comes after Labor Department data released last week showed slower employment growth on Long Island for April. The local economy was growing at an annual rate of 14,000 jobs last month, down from February and March’s year-over-year job growth rates of 29,500 and 18,400, respectively.

Full employment brings its own challenges to a job market, Patel said.

“I think the bigger issue is as our economy expands, even at a slower pace, job openings are becoming harder and harder to fill,” Patel said.

An area’s unemployment rate never goes to zero because people are always transitioning in and out jobs, Rizzo said. And others may have trouble finding work because they lack a particular skill, he said.

He noted that the jobless data don’t include people who are forced to work part time because they can’t find a full-time job.

But he said the Island’s jobless rate is impressive.

“When you have an unemployment rate that is under 4 percent, you are doing about as well as is possible,” he said.

On the Island, the Village of Freeport had the highest jobless rate — 4.9 percent. And the City of Long Beach and North Hempstead Town tied for the lowest, at 3.4 percent.

Among the state’s largest metro areas, Long Island’s 3.9 percent jobless rate tied with New York City’s for the second-lowest in April. Ithaca’s 3.8 percent was the lowest.

The state’s jobless rate was 4.2 percent and the nation’s 4.1 percent on the same seasonally unadjusted basis.

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