The Long Island economy is still losing jobs.
The damage from the Island's worst job losses since the defense downsizings of the 1990s is still being felt even though the losses are moderating.
"It's terrible," said bookkeeper Charmane Zeigler, 32, of Islip. She's been looking for work since her electric company laid her off at the end of 2008.
"It's very hard to find a job," she said, after emerging from a job fair at the Melville Marriott Thursday afternoon.
The Long Island economy has now logged its 16th straight month of job losses since the recession started here in September 2008, nine months after the national downturn began.
The Island now has 1.04 million private sector jobs, compared with 1.07 million when the recession began. Retail, transportation and utility jobs led the decline with 7,800 fewer jobs. The retail losses continue to reflect the slowdown in consumer spending.
The local statistics arrived as the national debate focuses more on the economy and jobs. President Barack Obama, addressing a group of mayors on the administration's plans to ease economic pain, said, "You can expect a continued, sustained and relentless effort to create good jobs for the American people."
"Overall, this report indicates that we are probably moving toward renewed job generation, certainly by the second quarter of this year," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association.
Long Islanders interviewed Thursday said jobs should be the country's top priority, but were divided on how much the government could do.
According to an AP-GfK Poll conducted from Jan. 12-17, 93 percent of respondents said the economy was an extremely or very important issue, the highest rating of a single issue. The second highest-rated issue was employment at 83 percent. In addition, 47 percent approved of the way Obama is handling the economy, while 48 percent disapproved. The poll surveyed 1,008 adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
The Island lost private-sector jobs at an annual rate of 21,800 in the 12 months ended in December. And November's revised number showed a slower rate of loss - 29,900, down from the 30,600 previously reported.
"It looks like we are still moving forward, but it's pretty lethargic," said Gary Huth, the state Labor Department's principal economist for Long Island.
"Nationwide, initial jobless claims rose by 36,000 in the week ended Jan. 16, more than expected. But the increase, in part, reflected a holiday backlog rather an economic deterioration, said Bloomberg News, quoting a U.S. Labor Department spokesman.
The only bright spot in the Long Island job report was the educational and health-services sector, which grew by 5,500 jobs, mostly in the health area. The sector has added jobs throughout the recession.
The construction sector had the second highest losses, 5,600, reflecting, in part, the downturn in commercial real estate. Government employment fell by 2,800 jobs, and brought total nonfarm job losses for the Island to 24,600.
New York City's private sector lost 67,500 jobs in the 12 months ended in December, or 2.1 percent. It's jobless rate rose to 10.6 percent.
With Emi Endo