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Work and the Coronavirus

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Helping people understand how COVID-19 affects work and employment by sharing insights and help from ILR's workplace experts.

Tracking Unemployment in New York State

Regions of New York State

Russell Weaver

More precise figures on how much civilian labor forces have contracted in New York state since March will be released today in a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The “Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment Data for April 2020” will provide statewide and regional information.

Last week, the agency and the New York State Department of Labor reported that New York’s seasonally-adjusted April 2020 unemployment rate is 14.5% – an historical high just two months after the state recorded its historically low rate of 3.7% in February. That rate is close to the national level of 14.7%, and slightly below estimates (including Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab’s estimates) of 15%-16% derived from forecasts and raw U.S. Census Current Population Survey (CPS) data for April 2020. 

Does this mean that unemployment is slightly less of an issue in New York state compared to the U.S. as a whole?

Absolutely not. For one thing, a 14.5% unemployment rate is still devastating, and a far cry from the sub-4% levels pre-COVID-19. Secondly, and more importantly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics state-level estimates are always flagged as “preliminary” when they are first released – meaning that they will be revised at a later date and may increase as results trickle in from additional surveys. Judging by how unemployment insurance claims in New York have continued to fluctuate up and down while, nationally, claims have fallen for eight consecutive weeks, there is ample reason to believe that New York’s unemployment situation is more extreme than the U.S. average. Indeed, last week’s reports even showed that, on a percentage/relative basis, New York’s month-over-month and year-over-year job losses were both among the top three highest values observed nationally.

At bottom, the official (preliminary) April 2020 unemployment rate for New York State is not as high as many of us were anticipating – a positive outcome, to be sure. However, between the preliminary status of those estimates, trends in UI claims, and other corroborating data, the final analysis is likely to show that New York has been one of the hardest hit states by COVID-19 to date.

Which areas of New York state have been hit hardest?

As many of us were expecting, the Buffalo-Niagara metropolitan region of Western New York currently has the highest unemployment rate in New York State at just over 19%. The lowest unemployment rate in the state, of just over 10%, was observed in the Ithaca metropolitan region. Except for an unemployment in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro of just over 12%, all remaining regions have unemployment rates of greater than 14% but less than 17%. Just one month prior, in March 2020, the highest regional unemployment rate in New York was 7.5%, in the Utica-Rome metro, with all other regions recording unemployment rates of greater than 3% but less than 6%. On that backdrop, COVID-19 has caused a tripling, or even quadrupling, of unemployment in most regions throughout New York State.

The overall impact

While the total impacts of COVID-19 on jobs and the economy are increasing each day, the tally so far includes the following bottom-line data points:

  • Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than 2.2 million initial unemployment insurance claims in New York state;
  • Between March and April, the number of employed persons in New York decreased by more than 1.8 million, a 19% month-over-month decrease (the third largest decrease in the nation, behind only Michigan and Vermont); and
  • Between April 2019 and April 2020, New York lost 1.9 million non-farm jobs.

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