Kristina Doucet, 22, of Wantagh, and Anthony Atanasio, 24, of...

Kristina Doucet, 22, of Wantagh, and Anthony Atanasio, 24, of Brentwood, joined hundreds of Long Islanders seeking jobs at a job fair in East Meadow. (Aug. 26, 2010) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Long Island's private sector added jobs at its fastest rate in three years, according to the state Labor Department's August report released .

The Island had 11,300 more private-sector jobs last month than it did in August 2009, a 1.1 percent increase. That was the best showing since September 2007, before the recession began.

The Island now has 1.039 million private-sector jobs, compared with 1.027 million in August 2009. As much improved as the latest number is, it is still considerably below the 1.073 million in August 2007.

The unemployment rate inched down to 7 percent in August from 7.2 in July. In August 2007, the rate was 3.9 percent, considered full employment.

The Island's economy has been growing since April, meaning that it has been adding more jobs than it is losing. But the growth has been erratic, a characteristic of a recovering job market. For example, the April-to-April period showed 5,000 more jobs, but the May period showed just 700 more jobs.

And some revisions slowed a lot of the job market's momentum. For June, the Labor Department initially reported a 5,400 gain from June 2009. It later revised that number down to a 1,700 increase.

Despite the erratic data, "all those numbers stayed positive," said Gary Huth, the Labor Department's principal economist for Long Island. "Is it where we want to be? Of course not. But does it appear to be a confirmation that we are moving in the right direction? Yes."

In fact, Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, estimates the Island needs consistent year-over-year growth in the upper 15,000 range to recover from this severe recession.

The trade, transportation and utilities sector, which includes retail, added the most jobs, 6,800 for the August period. Within retail, general-merchandise stores showed a 4.7 percent rise in employment while department store jobs grew by 6.7 percent.

Marilyn Schulman, owner of Willy Nilly Trading, a 10-year-old general merchandise store in Bay Shore that caters to women, employs 10 workers, most of them part-time. That number includes two full-time workers added in the past year because of rising sales. She plans to add four workers for the end-of-year holidays, double last year's number.

Schulman said that so far this year sales are up 11 percent because the store's items are moderately priced. She said sales for inexpensive costume jewelry, for example, are up 50 percent. The store is offering more coupons, too.

Lenore Adler, owner of Filly's, an upscale women's boutique in Albertson, hasn't added workers but has seen sales rise - she estimates by 10 percent. She attributes the sales increase to at least two things: People are beginning to hold more social events, like bar mitzvahs, because they are more affordable now. And more moderately priced gowns are available.

While the gowns the store carries range from $300 to $4,500, those in the middle range of $1,000 to $1,900 are selling best, she said.

"Now the manufacturers are producing in the caliber that can fit anybody's needs," said Adler, who employs 18 people.

The Island's public-sector, or government-jobs category, had the most losses, 2,500. And Kamer thinks the category will be a drag on job growth for a while. The sector's losses dropped overall employment, or nonfarm jobs, to a total gain of 8,800 jobs for the August period.

New York City added 48,500 private-sector jobs from August to August, a 1.6 percent increase. Its unemployment rate remained unchanged from 9.6 percent in July. New York State added 2,500 private-sector jobs, or 0.1 percent. Its jobless rate fell to 8.2 percent from 8.4 percent in July.

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