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Long Island's December jobless rate declines to 3.1 percent

Student Jazlyne Peralta, left, at Nassau's Mega Job

Student Jazlyne Peralta, left, at Nassau's Mega Job Fair at Nassau Community College in Garden City on Oct. 26, 2018. Credit: Anthony DelMundo

Long Island’s unemployment rate fell 1.1 percentage points to 3.1 percent in December, year over year. It was the lowest for December since 2000, preliminary state data released Wednesday show.

The rate mostly declined throughout 2018, after peaking at 5.1 percent in February, data from the state Labor Department show.  

The ranks of the unemployed here also declined to an 18-year low for December. The number of Long Islanders without a job fell by 14,800 from December 2017 to 47,400, the fewest for the month since 2000. Meanwhile, the number of employed set a record for the month, rising by 58,200 to 1.462 million.

"Overall, the report was great news for the region," said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the department's Hicksville office. 

At the same time, she said, a low unemployment rate amid an aging workforce is worrisome.  

"The region’s slow population growth combined with a larger portion of the workforce at or nearing retirement age is a cause for concern for a labor market near full employment," she said.

 Citing Census data, she said that one in four workers on Long Island was 55 or older as of 2017.

The latest unemployment data, which are drawn from a Census survey, don't reflect the effect of the partial federal government shutdown because local households are sampled each month during the week that includes the 12th. The shutdown began on Dec. 22.  What's more, later reports won't reflect the number of federal workers furloughed here because a federal bill signed into law on Jan. 16 that grants workers back pay when they return to work says they won't be counted as unemployed while they are off the job. 

"The main rationale is that they are a special class of temporary layoffs that the employer must count on the payroll because the new law obligates they ultimately get paid," said economist Gregory DeFreitas,  who heads Hofstra University's labor-studies program. "Whatever its intent, the effect will be to minimize the shutdown's otherwise negative impact on payroll job growth figures — an influential indicator of the health of the job market, much noted by Wall Streeters and politicians."

The Island has 16,000 federal jobs, according to Labor Department data. But it isn't known how many workers have been furloughed.

On the Island, Rockville Centre and the Town of Smithtown tied for the lowest jobless rate, at 2.8 percent. The towns of Riverhead and Southampton tied for the highest jobless rate, at 4.2 percent.  

Among the state's metro areas, Long Island tied with Dutchess-Putnam for the second-lowest rate. Ithaca's 3 percent was the lowest. 

The department uses year-over-year comparisons because local data aren’t adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations. The Labor Department will release 2018 revised data in March. 

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