Long Island's unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent in December, the lowest for December since 2007, state Labor Department data released Tuesday show. The rate declined from 5.1 percent a year earlier.
The drop came even as December showed weaker job growth. Last week the department reported that the local job market had just 13,700 more jobs than a year earlier. In November, by contrast, employment was growing at an annual rate of 15,100 jobs. That in turn was down from October's year-over-year increase of 17,800.
Despite the lower unemployment rate, the number of employed Long Island residents shrank by 15,300 last month, compared with the year before, to 1.39 million. Similarly, the number of unemployed also declined, to 12,000 from 63,500.
Local economists believe that seeming contradiction reflects discouraged workers who gave up looking for work because they didn't believe they could find any, including people whose unsuccessful job searches prompted them to retire early. Those groups aren't included in unemployment numbers.
But John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group, said that job growth also had to be a key factor in the declining unemployment rate.
"That's got to be part of the story of why unemployment has gone down," he said.
It's sometimes difficult to reconcile the monthly unemployment and jobs reports. The data are compiled from two surveys. The jobs data for local areas in New York are based on a monthly statewide survey of 18,000 businesses. The unemployment data are compiled from a much smaller survey of 3,000 households statewide. Local economists give more weight to the much larger jobs survey.
"I put more emphasis on the jobs number because it is a larger survey," said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the department's Hicksville office. "But it is definitely two different pictures."
North Hempstead Town and Rockville Centre tied for the lowest jobless rates on the Island, at 3.6 percent. Hempstead Village had the highest unemployment rate -- 6 percent.
Around the state, Nassau tied with Putnam County for the second-lowest rate at 4.1 percent. Tompkins County, home to Cornell University, had the lowest rate, at 3.5 percent. Suffolk ranked sixth with Dutchess and Westchester, with 4.6 percent.
The Island's overall jobless rate in December was substantially below the state's 5.7 percent and the nation's 5.4 percent -- both calculated without seasonal adjustments, making them comparable with the year-over-year local data.
With all the Long Island preliminary job data for 2014 now reported, the department in March will issue revised calculations for the year.