Long Island’s unemployment rate ticked up in July as more residents jumped off the sidelines in search of work but struggled to find positions, state data shows.
The Island’s jobless rate rose to 5.2% last month, up from 5% in June, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.
Despite the increase in the overall rate – typical for the month of July – underlying numbers suggest that more Islanders entered the labor force in search of work. Last month, the labor force – the sum of all employed residents and unemployed residents actively job hunting – grew by 6,700 to 1.46 million.
Of that number, an estimated 2,500 Islanders landed positions, while just over 4,000 did not.
"Better job prospects have lured people to the job market," said Shital Patel, local labor analyst in the Labor Department’s Hicksville office. "Looking at June and July, 6,700 Long Islanders entered the labor force, which is higher than the typical 5,100 increase that we normally see in July."
Patel said the jobless rate has fallen significantly from July 2020, when it stood at 12.6%.
"It’s a massive improvement from where we were a year ago," agreed Steven Kent, economics professor at Molloy College.
The big question that remains unanswered, he said, is how long it will take for the region’s economy to reach pre-pandemic employment levels.
"The issue that we’re all trying to figure out is where it goes from here," Kent said. "Do we bounce around in the 5 to 6 percent range for a while as people’s concerns about COVID, especially the delta variant, impacts some people’s ability to go back to work."
Of additional concern, Kent said, is what happens to industries like leisure and hospitality that have struggled to attract employees.
"One of the issues is that wages have not gone up enough in these jobs and some people are also fearful of going back into some of these roles," he said. Many former hospitality workers have likely "found opportunities in other industries," he added.
Overall, the labor force remains down 55,400 individuals from the 1.53 million Islanders counted in July 2019.
Additionally, unemployment remains higher than it was pre-pandemic, Patel said, "when the region was experiencing a particularly tight labor market and the unemployment rate was near record lows."
The jobless rate in July 2019 was 3.7%.
Many Islanders are still "on the sidelines," and have yet to join the job search due to child care and elder care issues, as well as lingering fears over COVID-19 and the emergent delta variant, she said.
On the Island, the municipalities with the highest and lowest unemployment rates were the Village of Hempstead at 7.2% and the Town of Southampton at 4.2%, respectively.
Both the state’s and New York City’s jobless rates rose last month, with the state ticking up to 7.4%, and the city up to 10.2%, state data shows.