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LI’s unemployment rate rises as more residents look for work

Local economists say the higher jobless rate — now at 4.2 percent — reflects an improving job market.

Tyjeer Nelson, 23, of Bay Shore, finishes an

Tyjeer Nelson, 23, of Bay Shore, finishes an application for a job at KForce Finance and Accounting during a job fair at the Melville Marriott in October. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Long Island’s unemployment rate rose to 4.2 percent in December from 3.9 percent in December 2016, state data released Tuesday show.

December’s rise marked the seventh time that a month registered a year-over-year increase in 2017. But local economists said the increases most likely reflected improvements in the job market here and elsewhere that enticed more residents to look for a job. And not everyone looking found work. Those who are looking are counted as unemployed. Those who have stopped their job search aren’t.

The number of unemployed Long Islanders rose by 5,100 to 61,800, state Labor Department data show. The number of employed rose by 4,400 to 1.4 million. The two overall numbers make up the Island’s labor force.

“The year-over-year increase in December’s unemployment rate was due to an increase in the labor force as people re-enter due to better prospects in the job market,” said Shital Patel, labor- market analyst in the department’s Hicksville office. “The number of unemployed also increases as some re-entrants have not yet found work.”

Another local economist concurred.

“This reflects a relatively large rise in labor force participation — more people entering the market with the expectation of getting jobs,” said John A. Rizzo, a Stony Brook University economics professor and chief economist for the Long Island Association trade group.

Despite a year of steady improvement, the local job market has slowed. The Island had 4,900 more jobs in December, compared with a year earlier, down significantly from 2017’s peak in February of a 29,500-job gain.

The department uses year-over-year comparisons because local data aren’t adjusted to reflect seasonal swings in employment.

On the Island, the Nassau jobless rate rose to 4 percent, from a year-earlier 3.6 percent. Suffolk rose to 4.5 percent, from 4.1 percent.

North Hempstead Town had the lowest rate, 3.6 percent. Southampton had the highest — 5.6 percent — because of seasonal factors this time of year.

Around the state, Queens County had the lowest unemployment rate, 3.4 percent. Nassau’s 4 percent ranked it fifth and Suffolk, with 4.5 percent, came in 10th.

The department will release the next employment report for Long Island on March 8 and the next local unemployment data the following week.

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