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Long Island's April jobless rate inches up to 4%

Job seeker Althea Woodhouse, right, of Uniondale, speaks

Job seeker Althea Woodhouse, right, of Uniondale, speaks with recruiter Sherry Grossman of Horizon Staffing Solutions at a job fair at Newsday in Melville on April 25. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Long Island’s unemployment rate inched up to 4 percent in April, from 3.9 percent in April 2017, state data released Tuesday show.

The higher rate is still what many economists consider full employment, defined as 4 percent and below.

“We’re near historic low levels for the unemployment rate, and Long Island is experiencing an extremely tight labor market,” said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the Labor Department’s Hicksville office.

But the number of unemployed residents rose, while the number of employed fell. Last month the Island had 58,900 unemployed residents, up 300 from the year before. The number of employed fell by 9,500 to 1.42 million.

Patel noted that the decline in the number of employed residents came even though the number of private-sector jobs is at a record. The local job market had 1.2 million private-sector jobs in April, the department said last week. So the decline in the number of employed in the latest report could reflect baby boomer retirements, she said.

“One issue may be the region’s aging workforce and an increasing number of people retiring, which would lead to a decline in the labor force,” she said.  

Barbara Viola, the president of Viotech Solutions, a Farmingdale technology staffing and consulting firm, noted that the replacements for baby boomers need even more specialized skills, and companies are struggling to find enough qualified candidates in areas such as specialized e-commerce and cybersecurity.

“Companies seem to be hiring and doing well, and we are filling positions, but some of them are really hard,” she said.  

Martin Melkonian, associate professor of economics at Hofstra University, said the job market isn’t as tight as the statistics indicate.

“If we really did have a tight labor market, it would show up in real wages going up, which they have barely done in recent years,” Melkonian said.

The median hourly wage on Long Island rose to $20.82 in May 2017, up 51 cents from a year earlier, the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.  

Rockville Centre's 3.5 percent jobless rate was the lowest on the Island last month. Southampton Town's 5.1 percent rate was the highest, but that is generally due to seasonal factors this time of year.

The Labor Department uses year-over-year comparisons because local data aren’t adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations.

Long Island’s overall unemployment rate nearly matched Ithaca’s 3.9 percent, the lowest in the state. Those rates compared with 4.4 percent for the state and 3.7 percent for the nation, on the same seasonally unadjusted basis.

The unemployment report is based on a census household survey of Long Islanders, regardless of where they work. The jobs report released last week is based on a survey of Long Island businesses.

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