New York City added 25,000 jobs in May, continuing a trend of modest gains — mostly in leisure and hospitality, such as restaurants and hotels — as the unemployment rate ticked down.
But economists are increasingly alarmed by a worrisome increase in the number of long-term unemployed, defined as those who have been out of work for six months or more.
Historically, such workers have a very hard time landing a job again because their skills erode, because they lose connections to the workforce or because employers are biased against them.
One year into the pandemic, seven out of 10 unemployed workers in NYC had been without a job for six months, according to a detailed survey of the city’s labor force released by the state comptroller last month. In March, two years after the pandemic hit, one in three unemployed city workers fell into that category compared with less than one in four nationally.
The problem is most severe among Black New Yorkers, according to James Parrott, economist at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. Nearly half of Black workers are long-term unemployed compared with 34% for Latino workers, 32% for white workers and 29% for Asian workers.
Work earlier this year by Parrott suggested one in five Black New Yorkers is either officially unemployed, stuck in a part-time job when they want full-time work or so discouraged they are not even looking for employment.
Many of the long-term unemployed formerly worked in the hard hit leisure and hospital industry, both the comptroller’s economists and Parrott agree, the sector hardest hit in the pandemic downturn and an area still far below the pandemic employment peak.
New York City gained 25,000 jobs in May based primarily on gains in two key sectors. Jobs in restaurants and bars were up about 10,000 and jobs associated with managing businesses, such as administrative support positions, increased by 8,000, possibly a sign of increased in-office activity.
But with strong growth nationally, New York continues to badly trail the rest of the country in recovery from the pandemic recession. With the May increase, New York City has regained 77% of the jobs lost in the recession. The country as a whole is nearing a complete recovery of all the jobs lost.
New York State’s pandemic job deficit is the largest among the 12 biggest states, according to a report issued Thursday by Parrott.
North Carolina, Florida and Texas have all surpassed their pre-pandemic employment records by a little more than 2%.
In one bright spot, Parrott’s report noted that New York City tech employment has been robust during the pandemic. Jobs increased by 14,700 jobs through April of this year, a 6.4% increase from before the pandemic, to 247,000 jobs. That’s still short of the 10.6% jump nationally during this period.
The city’s unemployment rate in May ticked down slightly, but remains far higher than the 3.6% for the U.S. as a whole.
Back-to-Office Reaches Milestone
New York’s recovery from the pandemic reached a milestone last week when city office occupancy topped 40% for the first time since the March 2020 shutdown.
The closely watched Kastle Back to Work Barometer increased to 41.2% last week, up almost five percentage points compared to the week of May 30 to June 3. The security company Kastle Systems measures office occupancy via entries into thousands of private office buildings in 10 cities, including New York.
The uptick coincides with stricter in-person work policies from large companies. Citicorp, for example, increased the number of required days in the office from two to three beginning in June. But it isn’t clear if it is a one-time jump or part of a continuing trend.
“This is good news for our city’s recovery as the presence of office workers in the central business district is critical for retail, restaurants and other storefront businesses hit hard by the pandemic,” said James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York.