Job seekers wait to speak with a representative of Access...

Job seekers wait to speak with a representative of Access Staffing about job opportunities during a job fair Monday at the Cradle of Aviation in East Garden City. The job fair was hosted by the Nassau County Executive's Office.(Oct. 24, 2011) Credit: Steve Pfost

Long Island's unemployment rate dipped to 6.9 percent in September from 7.2 percent a year ago, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

Though a falling jobless rate is often a sign of an improving job market, local economists believe the decline indicates increasing numbers of job seekers have given up looking for work.

The slight year-over-year decline in Long Island's unemployment rate came during a period when the region also lost nearly 17,700 employed workers, the Labor Department said. Those opposite trends suggest to economists the ranks of "discouraged workers" -- who aren't counted in unemployment or employment data -- have grown. The unemployment rate measures people actively looking for jobs.

Statistics for discouraged workers aren't published locally. However, Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, said the apparent size of the discouraged worker contigent "is the worst I have seen in my career."

Michael Crowell, senior economist in the labor department's Hicksville office, said the number of employed is falling in part because more Long Islanders are finding jobs off the Island and aren't counted in surveys here.

The state's jobless rate in September was 7.8 percent, compared to 8.2 percent a year ago. On Long Island, Hempstead Village had the highest jobless rate in September -- 9.5 percent. North Hempstead Town had the lowest, at 5.9 percent.

Overall, the Long Island unemployment rate in August was 6.8 percent. Comparing month-to-month changes in the rate is difficult because the data aren't seasonally adjusted.

At the HempsteadWorks Career Center Tuesday in Hempstead Village, Raheem Crews, 25, who lost his job as a cook three weeks ago at a private concession stand at Nassau Community College, was working on a resume to land a job at a warehouse distribution center.

Jennifer Li, a 31-year-old Syosset resident, was also at the career center, which is run by the town and the city of Long Beach. She has been looking for an accounting job since November 2008, when she was laid off. Li said she has sent out more than 100 resumes and has had a few interviews but no follow-ups. She believes her physical disability, a hip problem requiring use of a cane, may play a role. Nationally the jobless rate for people with disabilities is 16.1 percent, versus about 9 percent for the general population.

"Even though we have a disability," she said, "it does not mean we cannot do the work."

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