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Harsh winter slowed job growth on Long Island

John McGregor, the branch administrator for Island Federal

John McGregor, the branch administrator for Island Federal Credit Union, and Catherine Roger, the Hauppauge branch manager whom he hired at the Credit Union in Hauppauge on Thursday, March 27, 2014. New York Labor Dept. released jobs numbers for Long Island Thursday. Credit: Ed Betz

Looks like bad weather slowed job growth on Long Island in February. The Island had just 13,600 more jobs in February, compared with a year ago, data from the state Labor Department released Thursday show.

That's down sharply from the 17,500-job increase for January, year over year. The department uses year-over-year comparisons because the local data aren't adjusted to reflect seasonal changes in employment.

However, the monthly swings suggest this year's snowy and bitterly cold winter muted job growth in February. For example, although construction in February was down 700 jobs year over year, the sector showed a much steeper 1,300-job decline compared with January. That was almost twice the average January-to-February loss, said labor market analyst Shital Patel, in the department's Hicksville office. And February showed a decline of 4,600 retail jobs compared with January, when a 3,600-job decline is more normal, Patel said.

Still, she said a more definitive reason for the sharp drops won't be clear until later data are available.

"We'll have to wait until March or April to see if it's weather-related or a real slowdown," Patel said.

One bright note was manufacturing. That high-wage sector, which lost jobs throughout 2013, has risen for two consecutive months. In February it had 600 more jobs year over year, double the increase in January.

But as in January, job growth here was led by the lower-wage categories. For example, the trade, transportation and utilities sector, which includes retail, grew the most, with 7,200 more jobs than the year before. Retail led that growth, with 3,500 more jobs year over year. That sector, though lower-wage, is key to the local economy because of its size -- 154,800 total jobs in February -- and its sensitivity to consumer sentiment about the economy.

The February increase is "good news from a consumer-spending standpoint," said John A. Rizzo, chief economist of the Long Island Association, the Island's largest business group.

By contrast, the Island's highest-paying sector, financial activities, which includes banking, insurance and real estate, eked out just a 100-job gain, year over year.

Mastic resident Catherine Roger was able to find a job in that sector in February. She was hired as the Hauppauge branch manager of Island Federal Credit Union. She previously worked as a branch manager at a commercial bank but learned in November that she was going to lose her job because of a consolidation. She began job hunting in December and felt uneasy about her prospects of finding another branch manager job in a challenging job market.

"I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find employment at that level," she said.

But by the end of January, she had an offer from Island Federal.

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