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Rise of low-wage jobs on LI

One of the Island’s lowest-paying categories is the

One of the Island’s lowest-paying categories is the leisure and hospitality sector. It had 102.1 million jobs in February. (March 14, 2013) Credit: Newsday

Like any employment market that is recovering from an economic slowdown, the Long Island job market is a complex playbook with many different story lines.

The current tale reflects the rise of lower-wage jobs and the decline of higher-paying ones. This characteristic adds an important footnote to the respectable job growth of the past year that has helped Long Island make up jobs lost during the recession and in the weak aftermath. The recession officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009.

The recovery brings to mind Charles Dickens’ famous line in “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

The economy’s move to lower-paying jobs is worrisome to local economists because it bodes poorly for workers in a high-cost area like Long Island.

“The substitution of lower-paying jobs for higher-paying jobs on Long Island has been going on for at least a decade,” said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group. “However, the process accelerated in the last several years.”

In February, the month for which the state Labor Department released statistics on Thursday, the Island’s economy had 1.245 million jobs. That’s up significantly from the most recent low point, or trough, of 1.884 million in February 2010. And the category has surpassed the 1.240 million jobs it reached in February 2008, before the recession began to shrink employment.

The story is similar for the leisure and hospitality sector, one of the Island’s lowest-paying categories. It had 102.1 million jobs in February. That number, up from the trough in February 2009 of 87.1 million, has far surpassed the peak of 88.8 million jobs the category reached in February 2008, a few months into the recession.

The story line differs for the Island’s highest-paying category -- financial activities -- which includes finance and insurance. It had 72.5 million jobs in February, the Labor Department said. While that number represents a bounce-back from the nadir of 69.1 million jobs reached in both February 2010 and 2011, the category has yet to claw its way back to the peak of 79.6 million jobs it had in February 2007, months before the recession began.

Where does this news leave job seekers? Don’t let it limit your choices, one local economist said.

“Even though a lot of the jobs are lower-paying, that doesn’t mean that is the only area you should look in,” said Shital Patel, a labor-market analyst in the department’s Hicksville office.  

Henry Schein Inc., a distributor of health care products and services and one of the Island’s largest employers, hired seven people on Long Island in February, for jobs ranging from entry-level work to management, said Barbara Boschert, director of talent acquisition. And she said the company plans to hire more.

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