Capital Region

Capital Region jobless rate hovers near two-decade low

Improvement over 2017 comes even as more people seek work
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko listens as Centotherm Production Manager Dennis Ellis explains the assembly line working on Aug.1.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko listens as Centotherm Production Manager Dennis Ellis explains the assembly line working on Aug.1.

ALBANY — The Capital Region jobless rate remained at a nearly 20-year low in November, substantially below year-earlier levels, despite a significant increase in the size of the workforce.

The state Department of Labor on Thursday reported the unemployment rate was just 3.1 percent in November 2018, the same as in the preceding month. The Albany-Schenectady-Troy Metropolitan Statistical Area hasn’t seen a November jobless rate that low since 1999 — or an October jobless rate that low since 2000. The only lower November jobless rate since county-level records began being kept — in 1990 — was 3 percent, in 1998.

Among New York’s 15 metropolitan statistical areas, Albany-Schenectady-Troy’s 3.1 percent was tied with Kingston’s for the fourth-lowest November unemployment rate. Ithaca saw the lowest rate, at 2.9 percent, while the  Dutchess-Putnam and Nassau-Suffolk MSA’s both came in at 3 percent.

Kevin Alexander, Capital Region labor market analyst for the state Department of Labor, said experts have varying definitions of “full employment,” and some even question whether there is such a thing. There are always people between jobs, voluntarily or not, and there are always people passing up opportunities for which they are not qualified or in which they are not interested. There are also always people who have given up looking for a job.

“Most economists say: At or below 4 percent, we’re at full employment. And we’ve been there for a while,” Alexander said.

He pointed to the size of the labor force as a significant piece of the picture. The labor force is defined as everyone 16 or older who is employed or actively seeking employment. The two components of this group are the employed and the unemployed, with the percentage of the whole that is unemployed represented in the unemployment rate.

So the decline of the Capital Region’s unemployment rate from 4.1 percent in November 2017 to 3.1 percent last month is more impressive, given that the labor force increased from 449,000 to 456,900 in the same period — a greater percentage of the whole was employed, even as the whole got larger.

“The unemployment rate always gets talked about, but in the last few months, we’ve seen growth in the labor force,” Alexander said.

A fuller picture of the labor market would factor in “discouraged” workers (those who want a job but who have given up trying to find one for at least the past four weeks) and “marginally attached” workers (those who want a full-time job but can find only part-time work.) However, Alexander said, neither of those statistics is compiled or estimated at the metropolitan or county levels.

Statewide, about two out of five working-age New Yorkers don’t work and aren’t looking for work: The labor force participation rate (the percentage of people 16 and older who work or are actively looking for work) stood at 61 percent in November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationwide, the rate has varied from 58.4 to 67.3 percent over the past 70 years and stood at 62.9 percent in November 2018.


At the county level, the November jobless rate ranged from 2.6 percent (Columbia County) to 6.8 percent (Hamilton County). Saratoga and four other counties tied for second place, at 2.9 percent. But all 62 counties in New York had a lower unemployment rate in November 2018 than in November 2017, the state Department of Labor said.

From left to right, the following list shows the county-level unemployment rate, number of employed and number of unemployed for November 2018/November 2017 in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy Metropolitan Statistical area, with comparison to state and national numbers:

  • Albany 3.0%/4.1% 156,600/152,100 4,800/6,600
  • Fulton 4.3%/5.8% 22,200/21,600 1,000/1,300
  • Montgomery 4.0%/5.4% 22,300/21,600 900/1,200
  • Rensselaer 3.1%/4.3% 80,500/78,200 2,600/3,500
  • Saratoga 2.9%/3.9% 116,600/113,200 3,500/4,600
  • Schenectady 3.3%/4.5% 74,700/72,600 2,600/3,400
  • Schoharie 3.4%/4.7% 14,600/14,100 500/700
  • Albany Metro 3.1%/4.2% 442,900/430,200 13,900/18,800
  • Statewide 3.5%/4.4% 9.39M/9.21M 339,000/427,200
  • Nationwide 3.5%/3.9% 157M/154M 5.7M/6.3M

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