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New York City Unemployment Rate Falls, but More People Collect Benefits

The unemployment rate dropped to 5 percent in June, but the number of people collecting unemployment benefits in the city’s five boroughs rose 17 percent.

August 15, 2008
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New York City’s unemployment rate fell last month with the addition of several thousand jobs, a sign that New York is fairing better than the rest of the nation, but by a limited measure.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which only accounts for those actively seeking work, dropped to 5 percent in July from 5.4 percent in June and 5.3 percent in July 2007, according to the state Department of Labor. Last month’s adjusted rate for the city was 0.7 percentage points lower than the national rate.

But the number of people collecting unemployment in the city has risen.

Despite the adjusted rate, “total unemployment has been trending upward across the board,” said Jim Brown, a state Department of Labor economist. “We’re still seeing continued weakening in the local and national economies.”

The number of people collecting unemployment throughout the five boroughs, a figure considered by many economists to give a more complete picture of the economy’s health, totaled 70,700 in July. That number is up 17 percent from 60,500 in both June 2008 and July 2007, Brown said.

Unemployment payouts usually go up in July with expected layoffs among teachers’ aides, school bus drivers and workers in several manufacturing industries, but this increase is bigger than usual, he said.

Last month, the total number of New Yorkers not working was augmented by 2,200 layoffs in the city’s financial industry, according to a report released Thursday, August 14, by Eastern Consolidated, a real estate investment firm.

But unexpected growth in other sectors, such as 1,400 jobs in construction and 3,800 jobs in the tourism industry, eased the city’s unemployment rate. More than 6,000 jobs were added in the city in July, according to the report.

“The city has been performing better than the nation in terms of employment and job creation, and it continues to do that,” said Frank Braconi, chief economist for the New York City Comptroller’s Office. “But we also have to remember that these numbers are subject to large revisions, which might bring about a sadder story.”

July’s decline in unemployment could be an anomaly, noted Kenneth Goldstein, a labor economist at the Conference Board. He projects that the city’s unemployment rate is likely to rise again over the next six to 12 months.

“The New York City job market has been affected by the same forces as the rest of the country, except that when the dollar was weak, Europeans were all over Manhattan spending money,” he said. “That premium package is losing steam as the dollar improves and Wall Street continues to struggle.”

Filed by Damian Ghigliotty of Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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