Long Island's unemployment rate declined to 4.8 percent in October, from 5.8 percent a year ago, state Labor Department data released Tuesday show.
But a large part of that improvement may be due to people dropping out of the labor force, such as retirees, discouraged workers, or people who decided to go back to school, local economists surmise. Discouraged workers have given up looking for a job because they don't believe they can find one. None of those groups are included in the unemployment data.
The number of unemployed Long Islanders slid to 69,700 last month, down 15,700 from a year ago. Meanwhile, the number of employed residents inched up by just 1,600 to 1.4 million.
The Island's labor force, the total of employed and unemployed workers, declined again last month as it has for most of this year. The labor force fell to 1.46 million, down 14,200 from a year ago.
Local economists worry that the shrinking labor force may be due primarily to the large number of baby boomer retirements. Nearly a quarter of the Island's workforce is over the age of 55, compared with 21 percent for both the state and nation, said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the department's Hicksville office.
But exactly what is causing the labor market decline is uncertain because local data don't include details on who is leaving the employment market.
"It's unclear whether it reflects worsening labor market conditions or demographic changes from the baby boomers retiring," said John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association.
Still, the boomer effect could be key.
"I definitely think it's going to be an issue going forward over the next decade," Patel said.
The October jobless rate was unchanged from September's 4.8 percent. That similarity seemed to reflect the nearly equal pace of job growth for those two months.
The Island had 17,800 more jobs in October, compared with a year earlier, the department reported last week. That was just slightly more than the 17,200 year-over-year job gain for September.