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Number of employed people in Northern New York has declined

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New York state’s unemployment rate moved downward ever so slightly last month.

According to the state Department of Labor, it declined from 6.9 percent in March to 6.7 percent in April. This is the lowest the unemployment rate has been since December 2008, the department said.

“Since the beginning of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration, the New York state economy has added 440,400 private sector jobs and experienced employment growth in 35 of the past 40 months. New York remains one of only 17 states to have regained all of the private sector jobs lost during the recession,” according to a news release issued May 15 by the Labor Department. “The drop in the state’s unemployment rate was accompanied by a decline in the number of unemployed New Yorkers. Between March and April 2014, the total number of unemployed state residents fell by 20,100 to 642,800, its lowest level since November 2008.”

So, New Yorkers have a good reason to take a victory lap — albeit a short one. These are rather modest gains, so we must keep any celebration in perspective.

The unemployment rate in the north country has also dropped over the past year.

In April 2013, this rate in Jefferson County was 10.1 percent. Now it’s 8.2 percent. The unemployment rate in Lewis County declined from 10.5 percent in April 2013 to 8.7 percent last month. And in St. Lawrence County, this rate dropped from 9.4 last year to 7.7 percent this year.

But we can’t pop the cork if we scrutinize the statistics. In all three counties, a vitally important number tells a different story.

There are 200 fewer employed individuals in Jefferson County this year as compared with last year. The number of employed people in Lewis County declined from 10,800 to 10,600 from April 2013 to April 2014. And in St. Lawrence County, the number of employed people fell by 300 individuals.

So, yes, the number of unemployed people in the north country has been officially declining. But that’s because more of them have stopped looking for work rather than finding jobs. These individuals are referred to as discouraged workers.

Some people may attempt to slap a smiley face on these numbers by claiming that a good portion of these decreases is the result of people who are retiring. But this claim doesn’t hold up under examination.

If retirees are leaving jobs that are still available, this portion of employed people would remain about the same because someone else would fill an open position. The decrease in the number of employed people, however, shows that the job market is shrinking.

Fewer people working means fewer people paying taxes on the wages and fewer people with disposable income. Another problem is that we don’t know how many of them are leaving the state to seek jobs elsewhere.

These numbers are a sobering reminder of how stale the economic climate is in Northern New York. Taxes remain too high, and businesses have little incentive to open or expand their operations here.

State officials have proposed some measures to reverse this trend, and time will tell if they are successful. But for the near future, job creation in the north country is anemic and requires some fresh ideas.

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