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Unemployment Stats: Read Between The Lines

The state Labor Department says New York’s unemployment rate decreased from 7.4 percent to 7.1 percent in December, its lowest level since January 2009. Numbers for the Capital Region tell a slightly different story...

The unemployment rate in the Capital Region fell to a low of 5.4 percent in December. That's lowest number for the 12th month of the year since 2007 - but the number of workers making up the labor force stands at about 437,000, the lowest December figure since 2000.

23,700 people were knocking on doors, appearing at interviews and otherwise seeking work, down from 32,500 a year ago. But somehow, in the mix, over time, there's been a net loss of  about 4,700 jobs.

Kevin Jack, the Statewide Labor Market Analyst for the New York State Department of Labor,  explains it's all part of a bigger, national trend.  "Since about 2010, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the number of Americans who have been in the labor force, as measured by something called 'the participation rate,' has been dropping. The great mystery - it has befuddled economists at the Federal Reserve and many other places is is this because people have become discouraged and have left the labor force, or is more fundamental, something structural in the sense that demographics are such that people are getting older and as they age they're less likely to participate in the labor force."

Jack adds there are more young people going to college who cannot be counted as part of the labor force, and there's also a sharp increase in the number of Americans applying for disability, double the number of applicants in 1995.

Dan Moran with career transition management firm NextAct of Colonie weighs in on the numbers discrepancy.  "We're finding more people are leaving the workforce. Now, a fair amount may be retiring. Some may have just said 'I'm going to go to work for myself' and no longer count as being unemployed. Others may have decided they're not going to look for awhile. That's never a good situation when that occurs. We have gained back the recession jobs we lost and that's a good thing, but we need job growth."

Sharing a viewpoint held by much of the business community, Moran fears the combination of people falling out of the workforce with the threat of minimum wage increases and higher insurance costs under the Affordable Care Act could put a damper on new job growth and stifle the rebounding economy as well.

Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by sex, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted.

Hudson Valley Region:

The December 2013 unemployment rate for the Hudson Valley Region is 5.5 percent.  That is down from 5.8 percent in November 2013 data and down from 7.4 percent in December 2012.  In December 2013, there were 60,800 unemployed in the region, down from 64,700 in November 2013 and also down from 82,600 in December 2012.

Three of the top 10 counties in New York State with the lowest unemployment rates in December 2013 were in the region:

  • Tompkins County 4.1 percent
  • Nassau County 4.8 percent
  • Putnam County 4.8 percent
  • Rockland County 4.9 percent
  • Saratoga County 5.1 percent
  • Albany County 5.2 percent
  • Westchester County 5.2 percent
  • Suffolk County 5.3 percent
  • Columbia County 5.4 percent
  • Yates County 5.4 percent

Among the 7 counties in the region, Putnam County (4.8 percent) had the lowest unemployment rate and Sullivan County (7.9 percent) had the highest unemployment rate.

  • Putnam County 4.8 percent
  • Rockland County 4.9 percent
  • Westchester County 5.2 percent
  • Dutchess County 5.9 percent
  • Orange County 5.9 percent
  • Ulster County 6.5 percent
  • Sullivan County 7.9 percent

Of the 10 Labor Market Regions in New York State, the Hudson Valley Region (5.5 percent) trails only Long Island (5.1 percent) with the lowest unemployment rate in December 2013.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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