Long Island lost nearly 5,000 jobs last month, the first decline in a year, largely because of cutbacks in federal and local government employment, state Labor Department data released Thursday show.
The Island had 4,800 fewer jobs in May than it did the year before, the first year-over-year decline after 11 months of increases. The private sector grew, with 3,800 more jobs. But that growth wasn't enough to counter the bloodletting in the public sector, which had 8,600 fewer jobs.
The latest decline occurred because many temporary Census jobs boosted employment numbers last year and because layoffs continue in local school districts, said Michael Crowell, a senior economist in the state Labor Department's Hicksville office. He called the latest numbers "disappointing" compared with gains earlier this year.
"It sort of looked like the beginning of a recovery but instead of continuing to increase the number of jobs we're adding, they seem to be falling off."
Cuts in government employment have been prominent in recent job reports: The government sector shed 29,000 jobs nationwide last month, for example, largely because of school layoffs. Last month the U.S. economy added just 54,000 jobs, following gains that had averaged 220,000 in the three previous months, and the unemployment rate edged up to 9.1 percent.
Still, talk of Long Island or the nation slipping into another recession is premature, a local economist said.
"Given the dramatic slowdown in national job creation in May, there is growing concern that the economic recovery has stalled," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association. But "it's premature to make a judgment about whether we will slip into another recession based on one month's data."
Uneven growth will be the new normal for a while, Kamer said. "A recovery following a recession caused by a financial crisis generally proceeds in fits and starts," she said. "And that is what we are seeing today."
New York State had 23,600 more jobs in May than it had the year before, up 0.3 percent.
A decline reported Thursday in initial filings for unemployment benefits nationwide bodes well for the next federal employment numbers, scheduled for release July 8. Unemployment applications fell by 16,000 to 414,000 last week, the second consecutive drop.
The local job market isn't all gloom and doom. Melville-based staffing company Adecco said it has seen increased demand for workers in financial services, which suffered devastating layoffs during the recession.
"Although it's not huge . . . growth is growth," said Lori Farley-Toth, vice president of sales for the Mid-Atlantic division, referring to the private sector.
But things could get worse before they get better, especially in the government sector. New York State United Teachers, which represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals and higher-education faculty statewide, expects some 16,300 teacher and staff layoffs beginning June 30, said Carl Korn, the union's spokesman.
The specter of government layoffs hit home Thursday for Richard Dopkin, 42, of South Huntington. He works in Nassau County's Department of Assessment and also is a union representative for employees who learned which 59 jobs in their department would be cut. The news came down around the same time workers were throwing a shower for a couple, department employees, who are expecting twins. Their jobs are being eliminated.
"It obviously ruined the party," he said.
With Keiko Morris
Gains and losses
The biggest on Long Island, by sector, in the 12 months that ended in May
Education and health services +3,000
Trade, transportation, and utilities +2,500
Professional and business services +1,300
Source: State Labor Department