Pandemic amplified New York's labor decline

A study from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office found the pandemic exacerbated an already shrinking labor pool.

While the nation’s workforce grew by more than 5% from 2011 to 2021, it dipped by 1% in New York, the report found.

As of last year, New York’s participation rate, defined as the number of civilians aged 16 and older, who are either employed or actively seeking employment, was just 59%. The state ranked 41 nationally, and three percentage points below the national average, which was two points below New York’s pre-pandemic rate.

“New York’s labor force is the backbone of our state’s economy, and its strength has been its diversity, high levels of education and unionization,” DiNapoli said. “But my report shows troubling long-term trends were exacerbated by the pandemic and may be impeding New York’s recovery. Challenges may lie ahead that could negatively affect economic growth and state and local tax collections. Policymakers must give attention to policies that foster labor participation and encourage workforce development.”

As of last year, 9.4 million New Yorkers were in the workforce, representing 5.8% of the country’s labor pool. Only California, Texas and Florida, three states with larger populations, had larger workforces.

DiNapoli’s report also found that not only did New York continue suffering from high unemployment a year into the pandemic, the 6.9% unemployment rate was the third highest in the nation. In addition, the state had a higher share of underemployed workers at 5.3%, compared to the rest of the country at 4.2%.

The report also found that the state’s job losses over the past decade were coming from upstate. Of New York’s 10 regions, Long Island, New York City and Hudson Valley were the only ones that saw gains from 2011 to 2021. Both the Southern Tier and North Country saw double-digit declines, 12.6% and 10.2%, respectively.

Two areas where New York exceeded the national average, were college graduates and union participation. Slightly more than half, 50.6%, of New York workers age 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to the national average of 43.3%.

New York also has the second highest rate of union membership at 22.2%. That’s more than double the 10.3% national average.

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