Labor Department releases February unemployment rate as coronavirus floods the system

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FILE – In this March 18, 2020 file photo, visitors to the Department of Labor are turned away at the door by personnel due to closures over coronavirus concerns. The coronavirus pandemic has already hurt many households financially.  Americans have been hit with layoffs, furloughs and reduced hours across the country. Those who have not are still facing massive economic uncertainty. Experts say it’s more important than ever to manage your budget, reach out to lenders and seek protections available to those hit by the economic impact of the virus. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Labor Department released this year’s preliminary February unemployment rates for different metro areas and counties.

Statewide, private sector jobs numbered 8,362,600, an increase of over 75,000 from the previous February. The unemployment rate also dropped by 0.1% in the same time span across the state.

Unemployment dropped across the board in all but one of the 15 major metro areas the Department of Labor listed. In the Capital Region, unemployment dropped in the Albany/Schenectady/Troy tri-city area by 0.3%, and by 0.6% in Glens Falls.

LocationFebruary 2019 RateFebruary 2020 Rate
Buffalo-Niagra Falls5%4.9%
Glens Falls5.7%5.1%
New York City4.6%3.4%
Watertown-Fort Drum7%7.1%
Metro Areas4.5%3.8%
Non-metro Counties5.7%5.5%

Of New York’s 63 counties, the Department of Labor singled out 10 with the lowest unemployment rate. Although the counties with the lowest unemployment rates—New York County (Manhattan), Queens County, Richmond County (Staten Island), and Kings County (Brooklyn)—are in New York City, three counties from the Capital Region made the list.

Saratoga County’s unemployment rate for February was sixth in the state at 3.6%. Albany County took the eighth spot on the list at 3.7%, and Columbia County hit no. 10 with 3.8%.

CountyFebruary 2020 Unemployment Rate
Staten Island3.3%
Nassau County3.5%
Saratoga County3.6%
Tompkins County3.6%
Albany County3.7%
Rockland County3.7%
Columbia County3.8%

Calculations for employment and unemployment rely in part on results from population and payroll surveys, which contacts thousands of New York households per month. The unemployment rate is the number of people collecting unemployment, listed as a percentage of the entire labor force. The figure representing the total labor force counts everyone who reports their wages—meaning it excludes people being paid under the table.

However, these labor numbers do not account for the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

[Our system] is not working as smoothly as I would like to see it. It’s compounding people’s stress. You’re unemployed, you’re trying to get on some darn website, you can’t get through the website. We have companies working on it. We have literally hundreds of people working on it. I apologize for the pain—it must be infuriating to deal with. I am telling you we have every technology company working on it. We’re spending a lot of money. The site is so deluged that it keeps crashing because you literally have hundreds of thousands of people at any time trying to get on the site and it continues to crash.

Gov. Cuomo’s 3/31 coronavirus briefing

Because of layoffs and furloughs resulting from the coronavirus, all Department of Labor systems are overwhelmed. Between Monday and Saturday last week, Labor’s call volume increased by a massive 16,000%, compared to a typical week. Web traffic also grew by nearly 900%.

Labor presents a two-fold strategy to address the unprecedented influx. The first is reducing volume to spread out traffic day-by-day. They will streamline and automate the process where they can, and assign certain days of the week to sign-ups from certain letters of the alphabet:

  • Monday: Last names starting with A through F
  • Tuesday: Last names starting with G through N
  • Wednesday: Last names starting with O through Z
  • Thursday through Saturday: Open to all last names
  • Sunday: Unavailable

The second part of the strategy is increasing capacity. Although enrolling in unemployment will only be available Monday through Saturday, Labor will play catch up, and processing applications on Sunday. The department has reallocated hundreds of staff from within the state government and is currently training new hires.

The unemployment hotline’s call center will also extend hours into Saturday.

  • Monday through Thursday: 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Saturday: 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Find more detail on the Department of Labor’s numbers by visiting the county unemployment rates, state and area unemployment rates, unemployment rate map, and jobs and unemployment fact sheet.

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