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LI's jobless rate edges down as more unemployed Islanders find work, data shows

A help wanted sign is displayed in a

A help wanted sign is displayed in a store window on Main Street in East Rockaway in December. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Long Island’s job market showed improvement last month as more unemployed residents found work and those not actively searching jumped back into the labor force, state data shows.

The Island’s unemployment rate fell by 0.8 percentage points to 6% in March from February, leaving it still above the 4.1% rate reported during the same month a year ago, but significantly improved from the worst of the pandemic, according to state Labor Department data released Tuesday. In April, the island's unemployment rate hit a record breaking 17.5%.

What to know

  • LI's number of employed residents grew from 1.33 million in February to 1.35 million in March, an increase of 19,800.
  • The number of unemployed Islanders fell by 10,200 from 96,900 in February to 86,700 in March.
  • The region's labor force grew to 1.44 million in March, 9,600 above where it stood in February. 

Combined with the March job creation figures released last week, the recent unemployment rate points to broad improvements in the job market, said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the Labor Department’s Hicksville office.

"As with the monthly jobs numbers, Long Island’s unemployment rate continued to improve as the economy continues to reopen," Patel said. "Nearly half the people who found employment in March were formerly on the sidelines, or not considered as actively looking for work."

LI's labor force grows in March

The Island’s labor force — the sum of all those employed and all those unemployed but actively job hunting — grew last month to 1.44 million last month from February. At the same time, the number of unemployed residents fell by more than 10,000 and the number of employed grew by nearly 20,000.

Taken together, the month’s jobless data signals improvements in the job market and broader economy.

Typically, in March, the unemployment rate declines by 0.4 percentage points, marking Tuesday’s report as a positive sign for the region.

"The labor market picture improved in March as better jobs prospects brought people back into the labor market into new jobs," she said.

'Going in the right direction'

John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group, said the report is "good news" for the Island, but the market still presents challenges for many.

"We’re going in the right direction, but unemployment is still elevated and there’s still more to go," Rizzo said.

The vaccine rollout combined with the lifting of restrictions and the approach of the warmer summer months all indicate that forward-looking businesses are trying to hire staff to meet the needs of consumers.

"I’m cautiously optimistic," said Rizzo. "But I want to recognize the unemployment rate is still elevated" and that a lot of Long Islanders are hurting. "There's still a lot of pain out there."

Unemployment in Nassau fell to 5.9% last month from 6.7% in February, while the jobless rate in Suffolk fell to 6.1% in March from 6.9% the month prior.

On the Island, the municipalities with the lowest and highest jobless rate were Smithtown with a 4.9% unemployment rate and Hempstead Village with a rate of 9.6%.

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