Long Island's unemployment rate dropped to 5.1 percent in August, from 6.1 percent in August 2013, the state Labor Department said Tuesday afternoon. It was the lowest rate for that month since 2008.
Still, the Island's labor force declined last month, as both the number of unemployed and employed dropped. That decline suggests that improvement in the jobless stats may be partly due to people dropping out of the labor force, such as "discouraged workers," who have stopped looking for a job. Discouraged workers aren't included in the data.
The number of unemployed Long Islanders fell by 15,400 to 76,600. At the same time, the number of employed Long Islanders fell by 600 to 1.42 million.
News of the lower unemployment rate comes a week after the department reported that the Island had 20,000 more jobs in August, compared with a year earlier, the fastest growth in nine months.
Shital Patel, a labor market analyst in the department's Hicksville office, said she can't be certain of the effect of discouraged workers because local data on their numbers aren't available.
"The labor force is declining, but we are not sure what is happening," Patel said. ""It certainly is something we don't want to see."
But John A. Rizzo, chief economist of the Long Island Association, said, "If the total labor force number is down year over year, it must mean that some people exited, probably because they were discouraged workers."
He also said that the latest rate decline combined with the Island's steady job growth suggest that workers whose skills are in demand are finding work.
"That is the part of the market that is recovering," he said.
The job market still remains a challenge for many workers.
East Meadow resident Peter Morra, 62, lost his project-management job in October after 21 years with a company in Suffolk County.
It was the second time the company had laid him off. In the mid-2000s, he was let go, but was called back after four months. An outplacement firm brought in to offer career advice this time told him not to count on that happening again. "And sure enough it hasn't," he said.
Morra said despite sending out as many as 75 resumes, he hasn't received one interview. But he remains optimistic. Since completing a project-management course at Stony Brook University, he has been working on taking a certification exam to improve his chances of becoming employed again.
"I still have a lot of good years left for me to work," he said.
On Long Island, Hempstead Village had the highest jobless rate, at 6.5 percent, and Rockville Centre's 4.1 percent was the lowest.
Among the state's metro areas, Ithaca has the lowest rate, at 4.4 percent. New York State's was 6.1 percent in August, based on year-over-year data.
The department uses year-over-year comparisons because local data aren't adjusted to reflect seasonal swings. The unemployment rate is based on a Census survey of Long Island households. The jobs survey released last week is based on companies' payroll counts.