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Some good news in LI February job loss stats

Long Island's private-sector job losses in February continued to show that the worst of the Island's employment contraction may be over.

The private sector lost jobs at an annual rate of 10,000 in the 12 months that ended in February, down slightly from a revised rate of 10,400 for the 12 months that ended in January, according to state Labor Department data released Thursday.

Unemployment on Long Island remains at an 18-year high, inching up to 7.9 percent in February from 7.8 percent in January. Some economists have expected that number to rise as discouraged workers, who aren't counted in unemployment numbers, jump back into the improving market to look for work. Discouraged workers are the jobless who give up looking for work.

The February job-loss numbers "didn't show much progress," from January, said Gary Huth, the department's principal economist for the Island. But he said "the good news from this is that after a very strong January number, we didn't see some big pullback or correction."

Still, those losses are down dramatically from the 40,000-plus job losses that dominated the year-over-year figures in 2009. The Labor Department reports regional job losses on an annual basis because the numbers aren't seasonally adjusted to account for unusual factors in particular months.

New York City's unemployment rate fell modestly to 10.2 percent in February from 10.4 percent the month before. It lost jobs at an annual rate of 69,900.

Long Island's educational and health-services category led gains in February, growing at an annual rate of 4,200 jobs, all in health care. Construction posted the largest losses, 4,900 a year, as of February.

Marc Herbst, executive director of the Long Island Contractors' Association, said he's anticipating "a small uptick" in hiring in the coming months, as federal stimulus money reaches area construction sites, including highway and bridge projects. But he warned that "the stimulus money provided did not match the money cut from the state budget."

Manufacturing posted the second highest annual rate of loss - 4,500 jobs - but the losses moderated from January's rate of 5,300. Some manufacturers believe the sector is inching back to health.

"The business is definitely increasing," said Charles Hansen, the director of manufacturing at Hauppauge-based Visiontron Corp., which makes posts and ropes used to direct consumer traffic in banks and other businesses. "But we're still well below capacity and normal levels."

The retail subcategory put together two months of gains, led in the February period by department stores, which added jobs at an annual rate of 500.

The improvement reflects the national retail sales uptick, said Joel Evans, distinguished professor of business at Hofstra's Zarb School of Business. But he cautioned, "It's going be a long, slow process."

Government lost jobs at an annual rate of 2,500 and brought the total rate of nonfarm job loss to 12,500 a year.

With Patricia Kitchen

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