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County Unemployment Highest Among Rural Counties

Chautauqua County’s 7% October unemployment and number of jobs lost over the past year are the highest among rural counties in the state.

The only counties with a higher October unemployment rate are Westchester (7%), Bronx (17.5%), Kings (13.3%), New York (10.3%), Richmond (10.8%) and Queens (13.1%). Allegany County’s unemployment rate is 5.9%, Cattaraugus County’s unemployment rate is 6.2% and Erie County’s unemployment rate is 6.9%.

E.J. McMahon, senior fellow at the Empire Center for New York State Policy, wrote in late October that the troubling jobs data in New York state could be a sign of continued economic troubles.

“The employment statistics for September could be revised in future reports,” McMahon wrote. “However, combined with slowing growth in the number of private payroll jobs based in the state, the data suggest a worrisome weakening in New York’s recovery.”

According to the state Labor Department, Chautauqua County’s October unemployment rate was 7%, an increase from 6.2% in September. There are 400 more people unemployed in October than there were in September, and 1,300 more people unemployed in October 2020 than there were in October 2019.

There were 51,600 people employed in Chautauqua County in January. that number fell to 46,800 in April in the midst of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 shutdown before rebounding to as many as 49,500 in August. The number of employed residents has dropped the last two months, reaching 47,700 in October. Over the last 12 months, the number of employed county residents has decreased by 4,100 people.

Equally troubling is that the county’s labor force decreased another 400 people from 51,700 in September to 51.300 in October. The labor force decrease is 2,800 people less than it was a year ago and 5,000 people less than it was as recently as July. As McMahon noted, the September labor force decline was the biggest in the state since the pandemic decline, when people couldn’t seek work.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, in an October report, said such a drop in the labor force is concerning because of what it states about the economy.

“Unfortunately, a deeper dive into the Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals troubling context: New York state’s workforce declined by nearly 363,000 (in September), a 2.3 percentage point drop from August (based on preliminary figures), while the number of individuals officially considered unemployed declined by 302,000,” DiNapoli said. “In short, the unemployment rate went down in large part because of the decline in New Yorkers counted as working or seeking employment. Such a decrease in the size of the workforce may indicate that individuals have ceased searching for a job actively. New York also led all states in September job gains, at 109,300. Again, the picture is complex; at the same time, the number of employed people in the State fell by more than 60,000. Increasing numbers of New Yorkers working more than one job (perhaps part-time or temporary) may be one factor in those changes.”

Unsurprisingly, the county also reported a steep decline in jobs from October 2019 to October 2020, with the number of jobs falling 10.2% over the past year from 51,000 to 45,800. It was the fourth-largest decline among the non-metropolitan counties statewide, trailing only Montromery County (11.6%), Otsego County (11.4%), and Fulton County (10.3%). The county’s 5,200 jobs lost were by far the most among the state’s rural counties.

Private employment has decreased 12.7% over the past year, with the biggest decreases coming in leisure and hospitality (-43.9%), service providing jobs (-9.2%), natural resources, mining and construction (-15.8%) and manufacturing (-13.5%).

“The October employment and unemployment figures are an especially troubling sign that New York’s economy remains shaky amid signals that the governor is ready to re-impose restrictions on business and social activities in response to a second-wave of COVID-19,” McMahon wrote in a blog post on Nov. 20.

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