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Long Island jobless rate soars to 16%, data shows

The unemployment rate on Long Island hit a

The unemployment rate on Long Island hit a record 16% in April, data from the Department of Labor show. Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Long Island’s unemployment rate soared to 16% last month, more than quadruple the 3.8% rate reported in March before the economic effects of the coronavirus hit the region, state Labor Department data shows.

April’s rate was the highest for the Island since the department began tracking it in 1990, and nearly double the previous record of 8.2%, hit in 1992, 2010 and again in 2012.

It didn't come as a surprise.

In April, the Island lost more than 262,000 jobs — nearly 20% of the region's job market, according to Labor Department data released last week. The monthly job losses were the highest one-month decline in the history of the current record-keeping system.

Last week alone, 24,117 more Long Islanders filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the total of Island jobless claims to more than 340,000 over the last 10 weeks, the Labor Department said Thursday. Across the state, nearly 2.5 million New Yorkers have filed for unemployment since the crisis began, with 195,948 more filing last week alone. 

For both the state and Long Island, the number of weekly initial jobless claims was down last week from the week prior.

The jobless rate reached 15.6% in Nassau County last month, and 16.4% in Suffolk, according to department data. The state’s unemployment rate hit 15%, and the nation's reached 14.4%.

The spike in unemployment was expected, given the massive loss of jobs locally. What remains to be seen is how the jobless rate will be impacted by the Island’s phased reopening, which began Wednesday, said Gregory DeFreitas, senior labor economics professor at Hofstra University and director of the Center for Labor and Democracy.

“As everybody on Long Island agrees, the speed with which we can meet these metrics and thus move through the next three phases is crucial ... to what’s going to happen to these unemployment numbers,” he said. 

One of the biggest hurdles for the economy, DeFreitas said, is what will happen to schools and the broader child care industry.

“The fourth phase, of course, is especially important because that includes schools,” he said. “If you’re a working mom or dad that’s been allowed to go back to work in Phase 2 or 3, whether or not your kid is going to be allowed to go to school during the day is going to be very, very important.”

John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group, said it's likely that unemployment is even higher than the official rate.

“It’s actually more than 16% because that unemployment rate doesn’t include those who’ve left the labor force," Rizzo said. It's likely unemployment on the Island is "more than 20% for sure," he said.

Rizzo said record-shattering unemployment is likely to continue so long as the reopening continues at a slow pace and small businesses are subject to restrictive guidelines.

“Small business is the backbone of the Long Island economy and I think we’re opening too slow for them," he said. “If you are going to tell a restaurant they can only have 25% occupancy, they won’t open. It’s not profitable.” 

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