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Top U.S. data official discusses unemployment in LI visit

Erica Groshen, of Great Neck, the commissioner of

Erica Groshen, of Great Neck, the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oct. 28, 2014 in Melville. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The nation's top jobs-data official came to Melville Tuesday to talk about the state of the national and local job markets.

Erica Groshen, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, told an early-morning gathering at the Long Island Association that while data such as the unemployment rate grab headlines, many other key measures included in the agency's monthly reports provide a broader view of the job market.

For example, while the national unemployment rate declined to 5.9 percent in September, the latest BLS data show that the country still has a high number of long-term unemployed workers, or those who have been without a job for 26 weeks or more. They still account for more than 30 percent of unemployed workers, whereas in the previous two recessions that percentage didn't reach 25 percent, she said.

"So the composition of our unemployment is still heavily weighted toward people who have been out of work for a very long time," said Groshen, who has a home in Great Neck.

Another less well-known statistic is the participation rate, which has been declining. That rate indicates the labor force as a percentage of the general population. It dropped to 62.7 percent in September, after exceeding 66 percent before the recession.

Groshen said the rate's decline stems mainly from changing demographics, such as the large number of retiring baby boomers.

As for Long Island, she noted that the local unemployment rate has fared better than the nation's. Nassau's annual average in 2013 was 5.9 percent and Suffolk's 6.4 percent, not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations in employment. The national rate, calculated the same way, is 7.4 percent. She also said that the Island lost fewer jobs on a percentage basis than the nation during the recession and regained them faster.

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