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Long Island's unemployment rate rises to 5.1%, state data show

The number of employed residents totaled 1.39 million last month, down 9,500 from a year ago, the Labor Department data show.

Participants at a Stony Brook University job fair

Participants at a Stony Brook University job fair on Feb. 16. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Long Island’s unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent in February, from 4.8 percent in February 2017, state data released Tuesday show. It was the fifth consecutive year-over-year increase since October.

The rate rose in 10 months of 2017 and has been steadily moving away from what is considered full employment, which is 4 percent or below.  

The number of employed residents fell by 9,500 last month, compared with a year earlier, to 1.39 million, the lowest for the month since 2015. The number of unemployed Long Islanders rose by 3,300 to 74,300, the Labor Department said. That was the highest for the month since 2015.   

Last week, department data based on a separate survey showed that year-over-year employment in February was growing at an annual rate of 15,600 jobs, the fastest pace since June.  Those numbers are drawn from a survey of Long Island companies. Today’s data are based on a U.S. Census household survey of local residents, regardless of whether they work on or off the Island.  

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

One economist said she saw no cause to worry about the rising unemployment rate for now.

“The jobs report from last week was pretty good, and overall unemployment rates are still pretty low from a historical perspective," said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the department’s Hicksville office.

Still, she said the current unemployment data run counter to the job market’s strength and it is too soon to tell if a negative trend is emerging.

 The current numbers are “at odds with what we are seeing in the jobs report,” she said.  “So we’ll have to see over the next few months what will happen.”

Martin Melkonian, a Hofstra University associate professor of economics, said that despite their growth, job markets locally and nationwide have been plagued with too many part-time, contingent or lower-wage jobs. And he said that automation and artificial intelligence technology are replacing workers even in such higher-wage fields as technology and engineering.

Areas that are ripe for creating middle-class jobs are education, conservation and medical care, he said.

 “The federal government has to move more dramatically to bring back middle-class jobs,” he said. 

On Long Island, the city of Long Beach had the lowest jobless rate: 4.1 percent. Southampton Town’s 7.7 percent was the highest. Economists have said that seasonal factors are likely affecting the Southampton rate.

Around the state, Queens County had the lowest unemployment rate, 3.8 percent. Nassau’s 4.7 percent ranked it fourth. Suffolk ranked 10th, with 5.4 percent. The state’s highest was Hamilton County’s 12.5 percent.

Long Island’s February jobless rate compares with the state’s 5.1 percent and the nation’s 4.4 percent on the same seasonally unadjusted basis.  

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