Job fair attendees in April at the Marriott Hotel in...

Job fair attendees in April at the Marriott Hotel in Melville. Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Long Island's job growth flattened last month, a sign that an economic recovery may be in a holding pattern, state labor data released Thursday show.

The private sector added 500 more jobs last month compared with a year ago, and while it was the second straight increase in 22 months, the growth was far from April's revised 5,000-job bounce, which had generated so much optimism.

"There was some real tempering of job growth . . . compared to what we've seen since the beginning of this year," said Gary Huth, the department's principal economist for Long Island. "I think everyone's going to be watching whether this is a lull or whether it's something more serious."

The small job gain seems to contradict the uptick in May's unemployment rate - 6.7 percent, up from April's 6.6 percent and down from 7 percent a year ago.

That's because the job data comes from labor's survey of Island businesses, while the unemployment figures come from a Census survey of households, where the residents are not necessarily employed on Long Island, but perhaps in New York City and surrounding states, the economist said.

The news dovetailed with Thursday's federal Labor Department numbers showing a jump last week in first-time jobless claims after three weeks of decline. Claims rose by 12,000 to 472,000, the report said.

On the Island, last month's job gains look flat when compared with May 2009 because that month saw a big seasonal boost from restaurant openings and businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector, Huth said. But that raises the question - why not an equal boost this season? The answer: "We don't know," he said.

Numbers have gotten so "volatile," the economist said, that it's unwise to read too much into one month's data early on.

In the bigger picture, education and health services jobs surged ahead of other sectors in growth over the past 12 months. They led with 5,400 hires, an unusual show of strength, Huth said, because the sector often suffers when tax revenue drops.

At Island Home Care Agency in Hauppauge, recruiter Valerie O'Connor said she's got dozens of job openings, from nurses to social workers, at all times. It's not that government-funded programs are flush with cash, she said, but the more people she can hire, the more patients her agency can take on.

The biggest losing sector was manufacturing, which saw 3,500 jobs go down in the May-to-May picture, the Labor Department said. More than any other sector, manufacturing reflects the state of the economy, Huth said: "If people stop buying things . . . that's going to be reflected in manufacturing."

Despite the housing crisis, construction industry losses were flat also as the building season got into swing.

Developer Michael Dubbs said he's hired 20 people this year and senses a healthier industry returning from crisis mode.

"I'm just sitting here looking at a resume now," the founder of the Beechwood Organization in Jericho said Thursday.

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