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Long Island unemployment rate drops to 3.7%

Alex Vartanian, of West Islip, speaks with Peter

Alex Vartanian, of West Islip, speaks with Peter Noonan, director of sales for A+ Technology Solutions, during the Long Island Tech Job Fair, on Monday, June 20, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

Long Island’s unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent in May, the lowest for the month since 2007, state data released Tuesday show. The rate declined from 4.6 percent a year earlier.

The Island had 1.43 million employed residents last month, up 17,600 from May 2015, and the largest total for the month since at least 1990, the earliest year for data based on the state Labor Department’s current methodology. The number of unemployed Long Islanders dropped to 54,900, down 12,600 from a year earlier, the lowest for May since 2007.

The strong data from the latest report, which is based on a household survey of Long Islanders employed on or off the Island, contrast with a separate department survey released last week that showed weak job growth in May among Long Island businesses. The disparity suggests that more Long Islanders found jobs off the Island. The report last week showed that the Island had 4,400 more jobs in May than a year earlier, the slowest year-over-year growth since 2014.

Still, some local economists said the May unemployment report reflects strength in the Island’s labor force because the growth in the number of people employed outpaced the decline in the number of unemployed.

Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the department’s Hicksville office, said that difference indicated that more people found jobs, rather than that greater numbers of residents ended their job search because they didn’t believe they could find work. Those discouraged workers aren’t included in the unemployment data. Rising numbers of discouraged workers can produce a drop in the jobless rate even as the number of employed residents shrinks, as was the case in many months after the recession ended in June 2009.

“The people who are re-entering the labor force are all finding jobs,” Patel said. “That indicates real improvement in the job market.”

Another economist said the labor market’s strength bodes well for wages, which have been largely stagnant on the Island since the recession officially ended in 2009.

“One may anticipate an acceleration in wage growth going forward as employers seek to attract and retain workers,” said John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group.

Around the Island, the Village of Freeport had the highest unemployment rate: 4.4 percent. North Hempstead Town had the lowest, at 3.3 percent.

Among the state’s counties, Columbia’s 3.3 percent jobless rate was the lowest. Nassau came in third, along with Putnam County, at 3.5 percent. Suffolk, with a 3.8 percent jobless rate, was fifth and tied with seven other counties, including Queens and Westchester.

The state’s unemployment rate was 4.2 percent in May, and the nation’s 4.5 percent, both seasonally unadjusted figures.

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

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