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Long Island's new jobless claims rose 13% last week

Georgia's Side Street Salon, on Pulaski Street in

Georgia's Side Street Salon, on Pulaski Street in Riverhead, closed recently. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The number of laid-off workers on Long Island seeking unemployment benefits rose more than 13% last week, even as many other regions in the state saw slight decreases in jobless claims, state data show.

The state Labor Department reported 8,486 Long Islanders sought new unemployment benefits last week, up from the 7,505 who applied the week before.

While the number of jobless claims in recent weeks are dramatically lower than early on in the pandemic – new weekly claims hit nearly 60,000 in mid-April – the number of residents losing work and seeking aid remain well above historic norms.

During the same week in February last year, for example, local claims hit 1,705, according to state figures.

While claims across the state have fluctuated from week to week, Long Island was among only three of 10 regions in New York to see claims rise last week, along with the Hudson Valley and Central regions. The state as a whole saw only about 200 fewer claims last week than the previous week.

John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group, said it's hard to say why Long Island differs from other regions on a weekly basis, but he suggested that one reason could be the higher percentage of small businesses in the area, compared to other parts of the state.

"Long Island has a higher percentage of small business than any other region, with the exception of New York City," Rizzo said. "The longer small businesses go without access to capital and financial assistance, the more they’re going to suffer disproportionately."

Nationally, the number of Americans applying for unemployment aid rose last week to 861,000, evidence that layoffs remain painfully high despite a steady drop in the number of confirmed viral infections.

Applications from laid-off workers rose 13,000 from the previous week, or about 1.5%, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.

The U.S. figures underscore that the job market has stalled, with employers having added a mere 49,000 jobs in January after cutting workers in December. Nearly 10 million jobs remain lost to the pandemic. Though the unemployment rate fell last month from 6.7%, to 6.3%, it did so in part because some people stopped looking for jobs. People who aren't actively seeking work aren't counted as unemployed.

Still, fraudulent claims for jobless aid in some states and other issues, including potential backlogs of claims, may be elevating the totals. Last week, for example, Ohio reported a huge increase in applications and said it had set aside about half that increase for further review out of concern about fraud. And this week, Ohio reported that applications under a federal program that covers self-employed and gig workers jumped from about 10,000 to over 230,000. That could reflect a backlog of applications, because Ohio hadn't reported data under that program until two weeks ago.

Likewise, Illinois reported this week that jobless claims under its regular state program doubled — from 34,000 to nearly 68,000.

"The unemployment claims data remain a mess," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont.

Applications may rise in the coming weeks, economists said, because of ice storms that have caused business shutdowns across the country. Yet economists are generally optimistic that as the weather improves, COVID vaccines are more widely administered and further federal aid is distributed, the economy will pick up in the spring and summer. With AP

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