Long Island's unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent in October, the first time it's fallen below 6 percent since 2008, state data released Tuesday show.
The falling rate was the latest sign that the local labor market continues to strengthen.
The October rate was down from 7 percent a year earlier. The jobless rate for September dropped to 6 percent from 7.1 percent the year before. (The department released data for both months because of the backlog caused by the partial government shutdown.)
The declining unemployment rate reflects that more Long Islanders are finding jobs, local economists said. In October the number of employed workers rose by 25,400 year over year to 1.41 million. In September the year-over-year gain was 31,100.
Meanwhile, the number of unemployed fell below 90,000 in both months, also for the first time for either month in five years. In October their numbers declined by 15,200 to 81,100.
Irwin Kellner, Port Washington-based chief economist for MarketWatch.com, a financial news website, said the five-year low in the unemployment rate bodes well for the holiday shopping season. "It means that a lot of people are at work with buying power," he said, "which is especially crucial this time of year."
For many months during the Island's struggle to recover from the recession, the unemployment rate declined, but so did employment amid weak job growth. The jobless rate back then was driven lower by discouraged workers -- the unemployed who aren't counted as jobless because they have given up looking for work.
That effect seems to have lessened now. "Either people who have been looking for work or new entrants are finding jobs," said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the state Labor Department's Hicksville office.
The declining jobless rate comes on the heels of reports last week showing relatively strong job growth on Long Island. For example, the department reported that the Island had 24,600 more jobs in October than the year before. The jobs report last week, and the unemployment rate report disclosed Tuesday, are based on different surveys.
Local economists have long worried about the predominance of low-wage jobs during the recovery. But in three of the last four job reports, one of the Island's highest-paying sectors -- professional and business services -- has led employment growth.
Some job seekers, however, still find the market difficult.
Huntington resident Kathleen Liegey, 51, lost her J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. job as a trainer for mortgage loan officers earlier this month, after 12 years. It was the second time the bank laid her off. She is considering job-hunting in other industries. Wherever she decides to look, she believes her age will work against her.
"Finding a job," she said, "is not going to be easy."