2.6% Capital Region unemployment rate lowest in a third of a century

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ALBANY — Capital Region unemployment dropped to 2.6% in December, the lowest rate ever seen in the 32 years the current recording system has been in use.

The state Department of Labor reported the estimates Tuesday. The jobless rate is preliminary, but surpasses the previous record low — 3.0% in May 2001 — by so much that it should be beyond any margin of error.

The number likely is a byproduct of what has been dubbed The Great Resignation, in which many Americans have dropped out of the labor force, whether by choice or force of circumstance.

The labor force is defined as people working for pay at least one hour in the week in the middle of the month (employed) or not working but actively seeking work in that week (unemployed). Those who are neither employed nor actively seeking employment are not counted as unemployed or part of the labor force.

Labor force participation rate is the labor force as a percentage of the civilian population age 16 and older.

The Federal Reserve reports that New York state’s labor force participation rate dropped from 61.4% in March 2021 to 59.8% in December 2021. Its recent peak was 63.5% in February 2009, as the Great Recession’s effects set in.

The Capital Region’s labor force in December 2021 was 526,600, the lowest December since 1996 and 19,700 less than in December 2020.

The decline may seem small in an eight-county region of 1.1 million people, but employers already were complaining before the pandemic that they could not attract enough job candidates. 

As a result, employers in 2021 and early 2022 are ratcheting up pay and benefits, and most people with common skills and transportation who want a job should be able to land one.

The numbers in the Mohawk Valley region are just as striking in some ways, because it’s a more rural area with fewer job opportunities and higher unemployment than the Capital Region.

The Mohawk Valley unemployment rate was 3.2% in December 2021. The previous record low was 3.4% in October 2000.

In December 2021, all seven of the following counties recorded their lowest jobless rates ever in the 1990-2021 records maintained by the state Department of Labor. The first number is the December 2021 rate, the number in parenthesis is the previous low in records maintained back to 1990.

  • Albany County: 2.5% (tie with 2.5% in 1990)
  • Fulton County: 3.6% (3.9% in 2001)
  • Montgomery County: 3.7% (3.8% in 2000)
  • Rensselaer County: 2.6% (3.1% in 2001)
  • Saratoga County: 2.2% (2.6% in 1999)
  • Schenectady County: 2.9% (3.1% in 2000)
  • Schoharie County: 2.9% (3.1% in 2000)

These compare with 5.0% unemployment statewide in December 2021, which is nowhere near the record low.

The statewide unemployment rate was pulled higher by the 7.9% rate in New York City, home to nearly half the state’s population. 

For the 58 counties outside New York City, the collective jobless rate was only 2.8% — a record low.

For individual counties, the December jobless rate ranged from 11.1% in the Bronx, New York’s poorest county, to 2.2% in Saratoga and Columbia counties. 

Some localized rates were estimated to be even lower in December, including 1.9% in Guilderland and 1.8% in Clifton Park.

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