Long Island has largely reopened since March, above, but consumers...

Long Island has largely reopened since March, above, but consumers are still cautious.   Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

New jobless claims on Long Island declined last week following a sharp uptick in the number the week before.

On the Island, 5,568 jobless claims were filed last week, down nearly 6% from the 5,923 claims filed a week prior, the state Labor Department reported Thursday. Despite the recent decrease, claims on Long Island remain high by historic standards.

During the same week a year ago, claims were 1,193, about one-fifth what they were last week.

The number of jobless claims hit an all time high early in the pandemic, reaching more than 59,000 during a single week in April.

While the region has largely reopened businesses shuttered to stop the spread of the virus, economic uncertainty continues to mount for Long Island’s unemployed, their former employers and those working reduced hours.

"I think companies are starting to be underwhelmed by the lack of an ongoing surge of new consumer spending," said Gregory DeFreitas, senior labor economics professor at Hofstra University. "But you can’t blame consumers because a lot of them haven’t gotten their jobs back."

Listing everything from the uncertainty in negotiations in Congress over another supplemental unemployment aid package, to the November election, to the coming of winter and its impacts on outdoor dining, DeFreitas said consumers have little in the way of certainty to hold onto.

Combined, these issues generally lead to less consumer spending, which could lead to increased layoffs as businesses struggle with diminished business.

"One of the laws of economics is people tend to save their money in times of uncertainty," said DeFreitas, who also serves as director of the Center for Labor and Democracy at Hofstra. As fewer people spend, either out of prudence or necessity, businesses cut back in response to the lost revenue.

New Yorkers who have been unemployed for some time also were coming off a week when they received the last booster payments of the Lost Wages Assistance program created by presidential memo. New York's unenhanced unemployment insurance can be as little as $104 per week, depending on previous earnings.

"Standard unemployment benefits are not enough, and yet many people don’t have an alternative yet," DeFreitas said, adding that additional dollars are needed for the unemployed. "It’s definitely only a temporary stop gap measure."

Meanwhile, Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project, said she is increasingly hopeful that a deal in Washington may be reached on a new stimulus package.

"I think there’s a lot of concern among centrists in both the House and Senate … that just letting everything expire is not great for them at this point in the election cycle," she said. A new aid package is "looking more likely to me."

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