Jobs on LI: Labor Force

The Year

LI’s current labor force reflects levels from 10 years ago.

When the White House reported the American unemployment rate reached a 50-year-low of 3.5% last October, no one imagined in eight months time a deadly virus would more than triple the rate to 11.2%.

About four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 18 million Americans are out of work (as of June).

What’s more––the deadline for federal unemployment relief from March is coming at the end of this month, and while a new bill is still being negotiated, the weekly number of unemployment claims is rising.

As a part of our running series “Jobs on LI,” nextLI takes you into what the data says about the pandemic’s effects on Long Island’s job economy and major industries.

Labor Force

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the labor force as all people 16 and older who are either employed (working) or unemployed but actively seeking work.

Long Island’s labor force heavily fluctuates every month, but usually follows a general trend: it gradually grows with some fluctuations from the beginning of the year, peaks in the summer and contracts slightly in the fall and winter.

According to preliminary BLS data from May, the region’s labor force is 2.1% smaller compared to January. That still leaves a 31,730 eligible worker gap from the beginning of the year.

In the first months of the pandemic, the virus’s impact on the economy was immediate. At its peak, the region lost 57,316 (3.9%) of its labor force within the month of April.

Although fluctuations during the pandemic have been bigger and steeper than before, LI’s labor force quickly rebounded the next month and added nearly 43,000 (3% of) eligible workers back to its economy in May. Labor force numbers usually peak during the summer but it is unlikely they will recover quickly enough to match pre-pandemic levels.

Local labor market analyst Shital Patel told Newsday more Long Islanders re-entered the workforce in the month of June in light of Long Island reopening and job prospects improving.

“People who were on the sidelines because they didn’t feel comfortable looking for work during the pandemic have re-entered the labor force,” Patel said.

In recent history, our labor force levels in May most closely reflect that of those in 2010 (based on annual averages)––putting LI a decade back from where we were before COVID.

Wait, how did you get those numbers?

We use non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau Labor of Statistics, as seasonally adjusted data for Long Island was unavailable on their database. For each topic, we define BLS’s classification, give a snapshot of pre-COVID trajectories and current trend deviations and how far back we are now.

  • To show where we were before COVID, we traced back data from the most recent economic downturn (2009, when the fallout of the 2008 recession started anchoring) to now.
  • To show COVID’s impact on LI’s job economy, we compared the most current and available data in May (denoted as preliminary in BLS’s database) with data from January.
  • To show how far back we are, we pulled historical annual averages and made conclusions based on which was most similar to current levels.