The Long Island economy had 15,600 more jobs last month than in February 2017, its strongest showing since June, state data released Thursday show.
But the health care industry, long the Island’s job leader, suffered its first decline since at least 1990, said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the Labor Department’s Hicksville office. The private-education and health-services sector led employment losses last month, with a 2,000-job decline.
The loss in the sector runs counter to strong local demand for health care services and could reflect staffing shortages, Patel said.
“While the surprising year-over-year decline in health care employment cannot be explained by overall trends in the industry, the aging of its workforce may be weighing on the pace of job growth,” she said. “Health care has the largest number of workers over the age of 65 — 15,000 as of the second quarter of 2017 — and hospitals and doctors’ offices may struggle finding qualified workers to replace their retiring staff.”
Some local hospitals report strong hiring. South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside added 200 jobs last year, said spokesman Joe Calderone.
Likewise, Northwell Health, the state’s largest private employer, added 2,000 jobs last year because of demand and expansions, said Judy Howard, vice president of talent acquisition.
But she also said the hospital system has about 1,900 openings including some jobs that are hard to fill, such as physician assistants and specialty nurses.
“Staffing shortages do exist, and they exist in certain job families at Northwell,” Howard said.
She added that some health organizations receiving lower Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements may forgo filling vacant positions to cut down on labor costs.
“Some may be experiencing lower reimbursement and are reluctant to add staff,” she said.
To hold onto baby boomer health professionals who no longer want to work full time, she said Northwell offers them such options as part-time and per diem work.
In the current employment report, the Island’s trade, transportation and utilities sector, powered by retail, added the most jobs, 6,600. Retail accounted for 3,900 of those jobs.
“Although large store closures like Toys R Us dominate the headlines, retail sales job growth rebounded in February,” Patel said. “Stores, especially grocery and other specialty-food stores, continue to open across the region.”
The Island had 1.32 million jobs last month, compared with 1.30 million a year earlier.
The Labor Department uses year-over-year comparisons because the local data aren’t adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations in employment. It adopted its current methodology in 1990.
The Island’s 1.2 percent job growth compared with 1 percent for the state and 1.6 percent for the nation in the same seasonally unadjusted figures.
Several upstate metro areas experienced negative job growth. They include Utica-Rome, whose job market shrank 1.5 percent; Elmira, down 1.3 percent, and Binghamton, down 0.1 percent.
The department will release the February unemployment rate on Tuesday. The jobless rate inched up to 4.9 percent in January from a year-earlier 4.7 percent.