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LI unemployment rate dips below 5% for first time since shutdowns

Long Island’s unemployment rate fell below 5% in May for the first time since the pandemic began.

That rate was lower than in New York as a whole, at 6.9%, and the nation, at 5.5%.

The Island’s jobless rate shrank to 4.6% in May, down from 5.3% in April, the state Labor Department said Tuesday. During the same month in 2020, the Island’s rate was a staggering 13.4%. Still, even that rate was an improvement over the record-shattering 17.5% reported the month before, when the shutdown began.

John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group, said Long Island’s edge over the state and country overall may come down to the fact that the Island has a “relatively strong economy with well-educated workers.”

“There’s a lot of places in upstate New York that are financially distressed and of course that’s true through the U.S.,” he said. Additionally, Rizzo said, the region’s proximity to high-paying, secure jobs in New York City might also play a role in the Island’s improved rate.

Underlying issues

Shital Patel, labor market analyst for the department’s Hicksville office, said while the rate is good news, the numbers don’t indicate a massive wave of new hires.

“While this decline can be interpreted as an improvement when looked at in isolation, the detailed data reveal some underlying issues,” she said.

Although the number of employed Islanders grew by 2,800 to a total of 1.36 million, and the number of unemployed residents fell by 9,600 to 65,900, the Island’s labor force — the total of all employed and unemployed residents actively looking for work — declined by 6,800 between April and May.

The loss suggests that most of the 9,600 who left the unemployed category in May did not find work, but instead stopped looking for one reason or another.

“Compared to May 2019, prior to the pandemic, the region has 71,900 fewer employed residents and of those nearly three in four have dropped out of the labor force.”

Patel said factors including access to child care and health concerns may be keeping people at home.

Additionally, she said, it’s possible that many older workers are opting to retire earlier than planned.

Demand for job placement

Despite the loss to the labor force, the Suffolk County Department of Labor has continued to see demand for their job placement and hiring events from job seekers, said Blake Hyatt, deputy commissioner of the county Labor Department.

The county has hosted 70 job fairs and hiring events throughout the pandemic, Hyatt said, and the jobs that find the most interest offer advancement opportunities, skills development and benefits.

“The job fairs that are performing well are the ones that put diversity of career opportunities on the table, that put benefits on the table,” Hyatt said.

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