A job fair at the Crest Hollow Country Club in...

A job fair at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury on Jan. 9. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Long Island job market was significantly weaker in 2018 than preliminary estimates showed, state data released Thursday show. 

Revised data indicate that the local employment market shrank in the last five months of 2018, though initial statistics had shown some of the biggest increases of the year for those months. For example, December's initial increase of 17,800 jobs was revised down to a decline of 8,100 jobs. An August gain of 15,800 jobs was cut to a 100-job loss.   

"It's surprises me that the ... numbers were off that much," said John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association trade group and an economics professor at Stony Brook University. 

The big discrepancies are a reminder that "relying on preliminary data for planning purposes and for forecasting can be probematic," said Richard Vogel, dean of the School of Business at Farmingdale State College.  "That is one reason they always indicate it is preliminary data."

Not since 2011 revisions have the data varied so widely. At the time, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a cost-cutting move, had taken over the estimating and disseminatiing of state and local data. Back then, BLS said the wide swing in the numbers might be due to "new estimation procedures."

Experts said at the time that because of the bigger BLS role, state economists would have less input in the crucial fine-tuning of the numbers to reflect unusual occurences at the local level.  

Aa a rule, revised data are more comprehensive because they are drawn from state unemployment insurance tax records that nearly all employers are required to file. Preliminary data are based on a sample survey of businesses. Still, wide swings between the two sets of data are uncommon. And it is unclear what produced the lastest gyrations. 

Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the state labor department's Hicksville office,  said that some of losses last year could reflect  the growing labor shortages on Long Island.

“It’s possible near-record-low levels in Long Island’s unemployment rate could be constraining job growth," she said. “Companies across every industry are still hiring for most occupations, and many are reporting that they are having a difficult time finding qualified applicants."

The revisions showed more moderate growth in the construction industry, a reflection of the labor shortages on the Island, Patel said.

“Employment growth in the construction industry averaged 5 percent between 2012 and 2017, which is unsustainable given the tight labor market,” she said.  

Separately, in the latest preliminary report, the Island had 6,200 more jobs in January than the year before. 

The education and health-services sector led employment growth with a 9,300-job increase in January, compared with January 2018, all in health care. The professional and business-services sector shrank the most, down by 9,100 jobs.  The private sector added 6,000 jobs, and the government sector expanded by 200 jobs, primarily because of increased hiring at state education institutions and local public schools. 

The department uses year-over-year data because local numbers aren't adjusted to reflect seasonal swings in employment. 

The Island's total of 1.31 million jobs in January was a record for the month. 

Long Island's 0.5 percent job growth for January compares with 1.2 percent for the state and 1.9 percent for the nation in the same seasonally unadjusted period.  Around the state, Kingston's 2.8 percent job growth was the highest. 

The state labor department will release the January unemployment rate on Tuesday. The jobless rate fell to 3.1 percent in December, from 4.2 percent the year before.

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