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LI unemployment rate inched up in May, data show

Job seeker Clease Allen, 26, of Shirley, speaks

Job seeker Clease Allen, 26, of Shirley, speaks with Peter McDermott and Toni-Joy Incandela of the law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick at a career fair at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Long Island’s unemployment rate inched up to 3.9 percent in May from 3.7 percent a year ago, state data released Tuesday show.

It was the first year-over-year jobless-rate increase for May since 2012. The unemployment rate was unchanged from April.

The year-over-year rise came amid strong job growth for the Island. Last week the Labor Department, in a separate survey, said the local economy had 23,200 more jobs in May, compared with a year earlier, the fastest growth in three months.

Long Island had 57,300 unemployed residents in May, up 2,100 from a year earlier. The number of employed residents fell by 1,800 to 1.42 million.

The seeming contradiction of those statistics against the backdrop of strong job growth indicates that the Island’s employment market is going through some growing pains, a local economist said.

John A. Rizzo, a Stony Brook University economics professor and chief economist for the Long Island Association trade group, called the year-over-year changes in the latest unemployment report “small fluctuations” relative to the size of the local job market and said they are characteristic of a job market at full employment. That is typically defined as a labor market with a jobless rate of 4 percent or below.

“This, to me, says that we are remaining in a state of full employment,” Rizzo said.

The tightness in the local labor market should lead to higher wages and increased consumer spending, he said.

“I would expect there to be upward pressure [on wages] now with full employment,” he said. That “could be a good thing to stimulate consumer spending.”

Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the Labor Department’s Hicksville office, said worker shortages are a problem in this labor market, which has experienced steady growth.

“The big issue both here and across the nation is a skills shortage and difficulty finding workers for open positions,” she said.

The villages of Hempstead and Freeport had the highest jobless rates — 4.6 percent. And North Hempstead Town had the lowest, at 3.4 percent.

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

Long Island’s 3.9 percent jobless rate compared with 4.3 percent for the state and 4.1 percent for nation, on the same seasonally unadjusted basis.


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