Unemployment rate in New York remains higher than the national average

Apr 12, 2021

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that the national unemployment rate for March was around 6%. Meanwhile, that number for New York State was still at around 8.8% as of February.

In fact, the only state struggling more than New York was Hawaii at 9.2%. Economic geographer and director of research at the Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab, Russell Weaver, attributed these states’ struggles to the industries that bring them the most revenue.

“So if you think about what a lot of those states have in common they're big tourism industries,” said Weaver.

However, that 8.8% is just the average rate for the state’s unemployment, which Weaver said is not reflective of the economic environment of upstate New York.

“So the thing about average numbers is they tend to be skewed toward outliers,” he said. “Like New York City, downstate is an outlier there just because of the sheer volume of people and the number of jobs located there.”

SUNY Oswego economics professor Liz Schmitt said Oswego County is a prime example of how much New York City skews the state’s rate.

“Oswego most of the time has an unemployment rate that's just slightly higher than the national average or even the state average,” she said. “But in this pandemic, rural areas are faring relatively a little bit better, and we see that gap diminish or even disappear.”

Both Weaver and Schmitt agree that any unemployment numbers may not be indicative of the employment situation both nationally and on a local level since so many people have left the labor force to handle things at home, like helping their children with remote learning.

“So people exiting the labor force is still a bit of a concern right now because that could mean that we're not providing the social supports or the opportunities for people who would want to get back to work to be able to get back to work,” said Weaver.

“As these unemployment numbers move around, I feel some of it is trying to capture this unique labor market experience that we're living through,” said Schmitt.

While the country and Upstate New York continue struggling to recover from an economically devastating year, both experts are optimistic about what the rest of 2021 has to offer.