NY’s Labor Force Decreased Sharply during Pandemic, Remains below Pre-Pandemic Peak: Report

NY’s Labor Force Decreased Sharply during Pandemic, Remains below Pre-Pandemic Peak: Report

Courtesy of Comptroller DiNapoli

By Forum Staff

The Empire State’s labor force is one of the nation’s largest, but it decreased by 1 percent between 2011 and 2021 while the rest of the nation increased by 5.1 percent, according to a recently released report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. A rebound took place in the latter half of the last decade before dropping significantly with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. New York continued to lose workers in 2021 when the rest of the nation began to recover. Even as the workforce began growing in 2022, it is still 400,000 workers below the state’s December 2019 peak.

DiNapoli’s report found the long-term decline was due, in part, to population changes and a relatively lower share of workers participating in the workforce. New York’s 10-year average participation rate was 40th in the nation. In 2021, New York’s participation rate was 59 percent, almost 3 percentage points lower than the rest of the nation.

DiNapoli’s report also found:

  • Only three of the state’s 10 regional labor markets (Long Island, New York City, and the Hudson Valley) were larger in 2021 than they were in 2011, with the rest of the regions losing workers, including double digit declines in the Southern Tier (-12.6 percent) and the North Country (-10.2 percent).
  • New York was one of the first states impacted by COVID-19 and had a pandemic recession that lasted longer than the rest of the U.S. Its unemployment rate was 9.9 percent in 2020, nearly two percentage points higher than the rest of the nation.
  • By 2021, the state’s 6.9 percent unemployment rate was the nation’s third highest, led by high unemployment in New York City. The state also had a greater share of underemployed workers (5.3 percent) than the rest of the nation (4.2 percent). Underemployed workers include underutilized, marginally attached and discouraged workers. Underutilized workers are employed part-time but want full-time work and constituted a larger share of the workforce in New York (3.8 percent) compared to the rest of the nation (3 percent) in 2021.
  • In 2019, New York’s unemployment rate for people with disabilities was at its lowest in over 10 years, but grew in 2020 and remained elevated in 2021, at a rate almost twice that of people without a disability. Labor force participation for this group was 40 percent in 2020, trailing that for the state as a whole.
  • Labor force participation rates were highest for Hispanics, at just over 61 percent on average over the 10-year period. Participation rates were lowest for Black workers and decreased from 60.3 percent in 2014 to a low of 55 percent in 2020 before rebounding in 2021.
  • New York’s workforce is more highly educated than the nation, with 50.6 percent of those 25 and older having at least a bachelor’s degree compared to 43.3 percent nationwide.
  • In New York, 22.2 percent of employed workers were members of unions in 2021, second highest in the nation. Union members represented 10.3 percent of all employed workers nationwide in 2021, down from 11.8 percent in 2011.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the labor force as the portion of the working age population, 16 and over, that is either employed or officially considered unemployed – those who are not employed but have actively looked for work in the previous four-week period.



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