Jobs on LI: Unemployment

Our analysis is based on available, official public data. However, a recent U.S. Bureau Labor of Statistics news release reports a significant “misclassification error” occurred in the March, April and May job reports. BLS says that the unemployment rate was higher than initially reported and you can read here for the details.

What this means: Unemployment numbers from March to May likely presented a far rosier picture than the actual state of affairs.

Unemployment Rate

Let’s start with these two charts. The first chart shows the percent change in unemployment rate compared to 2009 when the Great Recession hit and our recovery since. The second chart shows Long Island’s trajectory in unemployment since January.

The takeaway: A downward trend is good news. LI’s economy had rebounded from the recession, and the regional unemployment rate gradually decreased over a decade. By 2019, our unemployment rate dropped by 49.3%, from 7.1% in 2009 to 3.6% in 2019.

The takeaway: A rapid climb is bad news, especially when unemployment was declining for 10 years pre-coronavirus. In May of 2020, our unemployment rate quadrupled from January’s 3.9% to May’s 12.2% –– a stark contrast from the low levels of unemployment LI enjoyed before the pandemic.

In June, LI added 74,000 jobs to its economy and saw a slight rise in the unemployment rate (12.9%), according to the New York State Labor Department.

Month-to-month volatility may not be telling the full story of LI unemployment and could be due to statistical fluctuations more than anything else, said Molloy College economics professor Steve Kent.

“To me the biggest issue is we are still above 12% unemployment in Nassau and Suffolk,” Kent said. “That is a dramatic increase and one to be concerned about.”

The current number (May) of unemployed Long Islanders is 179,751––152,544 more compared to January.

Unemployment is now at a record high compared to anytime after 1990. In a recent pandemic-impact report on LI’s economy, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said LI unemployment has seen the fastest rise on record and pushed for direct federal relief from Congress to offset the economic distress caused by COVID.

The most comparable, recent data point for unemployment from the fallout of the last financial recession in 2008 is 109,582 (2010), but there are 70,169 more jobless Long Islanders now than in 2010.

So how did we get these 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-19, 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-19’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.