The Long Island economy picked up some momentum in March,...

The Long Island economy picked up some momentum in March, when it had 17,900 more jobs than the same month a year earlier, state Labor Department data released April 18, 2013 show. Credit: AP, 2009

The Long Island economy picked up some momentum in March, when it had 17,900 more jobs than a year earlier, state Labor Department data released Thursday show.

Sandy-related rebuilding gave job growth a big boost for the month.

But significant layoffs in the public sector underscored that Long Island's job market continues to be a story of dramatic contrasts.

March's gain surpassed job growth in February, when the economy had 16,200 more jobs than a year earlier. Both numbers, however, are considerably below January, when the economy had 26,200 more jobs than in January 2012.

Demand for home repairs after superstorm Sandy helped the specialty-trade contractors category post its biggest jump in more than eight years. That category had 4,100 more jobs year over year as employment of specialists such as electricians, painters and sheet rock installers grew.

"You have all sorts of specialty trades there, and that is going to continue for a while," said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association.

Those jobs are included in the Island's private sector, which had 21,700 more jobs in March and has had 34 consecutive months of employment gains, said Shital Patel, the labor market analyst in the Labor Department's Hicksville office.

"Year-over-year job growth has been quite strong," Patel said.

But the government, or public sector, had 3,800 fewer jobs than a year earlier, the biggest loss of any category, reflecting layoffs of public school teachers and administrators.

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

The Island had strong job growth last month in lower-wage categories such as retailing, which had 5,000 more jobs, and food services and drinking places, which had 5,100 more jobs.

"The preponderance of new job growth is in low-wage industries," Kamer said.

Job growth could continue to increase in the near term, if demand at a staffing company is any indication. In the past four to six weeks, demand has picked up for general-office and clerical temporary employees, said Anthony Zarb, Adecco senior branch manager for Garden City, Melville and Bohemia.

West Hempstead resident Connie Conley, 50, who found a job through Craigslist, started work on March 20, as an executive assistant at an electrical contracting company in Port Washington after losing her job of 21 years on Jan. 2.

"Most of my family members told me I should be prepared for five to six months of unemployment," she said. "I was very lucky."

The department will report the Island's unemployment rate on Tuesday.

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