The Island's unemployment rate dropped to 5.4% in April, the...

The Island's unemployment rate dropped to 5.4% in April, the state Labor Department said. Here, the Suffolk County One-Stop Employment Center in Hauppauge. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Long Island’s unemployment rate fell to 5.4% in April, a stark contrast to the record 17.5% rate hit a year ago, when the pandemic shutdown led to massive layoffs.

State data released Tuesday show that 77,500 residents are unemployed, compared to 241,000 in April 2020.

The jobless rate, which has been on the decline for months, fell 0.6 percentage points in April from 6% in March, the state Labor Department reported.

But the Island's labor market still has a long way to go to recover to pre-COVID levels, a labor economist and business expert said.

"There was some improvement ... as 7,000 formerly unemployed residents found work" between March and April, said Shital Patel, labor analyst in the Labor Department’s Hicksville office. "The reopening of the economy and loosening of restrictions have really accelerated over the last month."

Still, challenges to the Island’s recovery persist, she said.

"Despite more people finding work, the overall labor force didn’t grow in April, which suggests that issues that forced people out of the workforce, like childcare access and health concerns, were still in effect in early April," Patel said.

The labor force refers to the sum of all residents who are employed and all those who are unemployed and actively looking for work.

When comparing last month to April two years ago, before COVID, 65,400 fewer Long Islanders have jobs today, and nearly half of those – 32,100 – have stopped looking for work, leaving the labor force, Patel said.

In April 2019, the Island reported a record low unemployment rate for the month of 3%.

"Clearly we made a lot of progress since the onset of the pandemic," said Matthew Cohen, president and chief executive of the Long Island Association business group. "This means we’re going in the right direction, but there’s still more to go."

Cohen said the rolling back of capacity limits and restrictions has the potential to unleash a wave of "pent-up demand" that will make the summer business months a needed reprieve for small businesses.

"Our small businesses went through hell and back," he said. "The ones that survived really deserve our continued support."

The municipality with the highest jobless rate last month was the Village of Freeport at 6.9%. Rockville Centre and the City of Long Beach were tied for the lowest rate, at 4.9%.

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