Job seekers line up in January 2010 to get into...

Job seekers line up in January 2010 to get into a job fair Hempstead Village. March statistics show unemployement on Long Island has fallen a bit, and the loss of jobs has slowed. Credit: Howard Schnapp File

Long Island's job market continues to heal from the ravages of the recession, state Labor Department data released Thursday show. The unemployment rate tumbled to 7.2 percent in March from 7.9 percent in February, the biggest drop between those months since 1990. And private-sector job losses shrank dramatically for the third month in a row.

Long Island had 5,400 fewer private-sector jobs last month, compared with March 2009. By contrast, in February, the Island had 9,000 fewer jobs compared with February 2009. And that's down dramatically from the 33,000 fewer jobs counted between last December and December 2008.

"That tells me that it won't be many more months before we'll start to see net increases in jobs," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association.

The last time the overall Long Island economy added jobs on a year-over-year basis was in May 2008, the month before the recession began here.

An executive of Adecco, the temp agency whose North America headquarters is in Melville, said that demand for temporary workers, particularly in manufacturing and distribution, is up "significantly" from last year.

And employers are increasingly saying, "If things continue to go well, we may convert these to full-time employees," said Herb Morrow, Long Island regional director.

As of March, the Island had an estimated 1.003 million jobs, compared with 1.008 million a year ago. The latest March number is up from the 992,700 jobs the department counted in February. Each month the number of jobs on Long Island is counted and that tally is compared with year-earlier numbers to smooth out seasonal factors.

Though the jobless rate dropped nearly 1 percentage point, Kamer doesn't believe it necessarily indicates improvement.

"We don't know to what extent the reduction [of the rate] reflects people who have stopped looking for jobs and are no longer counted," she said.

But Gary Huth, the department's principal economist for Long Island, believes the jobless rate drop says a lot.

While he said the rate generally falls between February and March, the latest percentage-point drop is the largest between those two months in 20 years.

"Now the unemployment number is really kind of catching up with the improvement in the jobs number," Huth said.

New York City's unemployment rate fell to 9.9 percent in March from 10.2 percent in February. The city had 35,400 fewer jobs in March, compared with the year-earlier period. New York State's jobless rate fell to 8.8 percent in March from 9.2 percent in February.

The nation's unemployment rate remained unchanged in March at 9.7 percent.

The educational and health-services category continued to lead in job gains, with 4,600 more jobs in March compared with March a year ago. The biggest job loser was manufacturing, with 4,100 fewer jobs.

"Jobs for blue-collar workers will continue to remain scarce," Kamer said.

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