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Long Island jobless rate falls to 6.8%

Participants in a job fair last week sponsored

Participants in a job fair last week sponsored by the Long Island Job Finder. (Sept. 13, 2011) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Long Island's unemployment rate inched down to 6.8 percent in August from 7.1 percent in July, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.

The new rate is also down from 7.2 percent in August 2010.

The latest declines may not indicate an improving economy here but rather two key phenomena characteristic of a weak economy: More unemployed people are finding work off the Island or have simply given up looking for a job.

That could explain why both the number of unemployed and employed workers on Long Island fell in August, a seeming contradiction. The Island had 100,200 jobless workers in August, down from 108,600 the year before. At the same time, the number of employed Long Islanders fell to 1.366 million, from 1.391 million the year before.

"The unemployment survey only looks at where people live, not where they work," said Michael Crowell, senior economist in the state Labor Department's Hicksville office. "So anybody who is working off Long Island would be decreasing the unemployment rate" here.

Employment data, which the department released last week, tally the jobs on Long Island and show why surrounding areas may be more attractive for local job hunters. Long Island had 13,000 fewer jobs last month than it had the year before, the worst performance of any metro area the State Labor Department tracks.

The second key reason for the rate decline is probably a rising number of discouraged workers, which makes unemployment data look rosier because those workers, who have stopped looking for work, aren't included in unemployment statistics.

"There is a strong assumption that with jobs declining, the unemployment rate has declined because we have more discouraged workers," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association. "And that is supported by the fact that the size of the labor force has declined."

Data for discouraged workers aren't published on the local level. Nationally, those workers totaled 977,000 in August, more than double the 363,000 the nation had at the start of the recession in December 2007.

Mattituck resident Manny Constantine, 58, hasn't fallen into the discouraged workers category yet, but he has been looking for a job since April 2010, when he lost his part-time bank teller job after 21/2 years. Before that he was self-employed for about 20 years, but he needed a job with benefits.

In the meantime, he is living on savings, which could be depleted even more when his COBRA health benefits from his teller job expire at the end of next month.

He said prospective employers typically tell him, "We will contact you in a couple of days." But he added, "You don't hear a thing."

Photo: Participants at a job fair this past week sponsored by Long Island Job Finder. (Sept. 13, 2011)

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