Unemployment sees biggest quarterly drop since ’76

Originally published in Crain’s New York Business Nov. 20, 2014.

As the economy adds jobs, the percentage of unemployed workers has plunged in the past three months, according to data released Thursday.

The weather is getting colder, but job numbers in the city are as hot as they’ve been in decades.

Data released Thursday show the city enjoyed the largest three-month drop in its unemployment rate—1.4 points—since the figure was first determined in 1976. New York City and state now have their lowest unemployment rates since October 2008, at the onset of the financial crisis.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the Big Apple dropped to 6.4% in October, down 0.4 percentage points from September and the lowest level since the depths of the last recession. October was the fourth straight month with a decline in the unemployment rate.

“We haven’t had a year like this in a long time,” said Elena Volovelskaya, an economist with the state Labor Department. “Not only is the unemployment rate coming down, but it’s coming down for the right reason.” Since October 2013, the New York City’s unemployment rate has dropped two points, from 8.4%, even as the city’s labor force grew by 1.1%.

Since October 2013, New York City’s unemployment rate has dropped 2 points from 8.4%, even as the city’s labor force grew by 1.1%.

A buoyant tourism economy helped jobs in leisure and hospitality grow 5.5% in the 12 months ended in October, the largest proportional increase of any sector, after having showed little growth in September. It defied weak expectations to lead October’s job growth by adding 4,000 positions.

The number of unemployed city residents dropped to 262,800 in October, the lowest since November 2008. The drop in unemployment is thanks largely to the strength of the private sector, which added 87,200 jobs and has grown 2.5% in the 12 months ended in October. The city’s private-sector growth outpaced New York state’s (1.5%) and the nation’s as a whole (2.3%).

One possible dark spot on the economy’s sheen is private-sector educational services, in which hiring is normally strong as schools get to full employment in October. Hiring in October 2014 trailed its 10-year average with 11,000 added jobs. “We could be seeing the beginning of a possible slowdown,” Ms. Volovelskaya said, noting that grants and funding streams available during the recession were drying up. “But it’s too early to call it a trend.”

The city’s year-over-year growth was led by education and health services, which added 24,500 jobs; leisure and hospitality, up 21,300; and professional services, which increased by 19,600. The only private industry to lose jobs year-over-year was the information sector, which decreased by 3,300. Government employment declined by 1,900 in the same period.

The unemployment rate across New York state declined in October, to 6.0% from 6.2%, while the national unemployment rate dipped a tenth of a point, to 5.8%.