Yates County unemployment lowest in New York

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express

PENN YAN — The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) last week released preliminary local area unemployment rates for May 2021 showing that Yates County ranks first in the state for employment. 

Yates is first among  just four counties in that state with unemployment below 4%. The data in the table are not seasonally adjusted, which means they reflect seasonal influences (e.g., holiday and summer hires). Therefore, the most valid comparisons with this type of data are year-to-year comparisons of the same month, for example, May 2020 versus May 2021.

According to the DOL, rates are calculated using methods prescribed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state’s area unemployment rates rely in part on the results of the Current Population Survey, which contacts approximately 3,100 households in New York state each month. New York’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased from 8.2% in April to 7.8% in May 2021.

“Yates County historically has one of the lowest unemployment rates, not only in our area, but in the entire state,” said Nonie Flynn, Yates County treasurer/county administrator.  “Currently, we are one of only four counties in New York state with an unemployment rate below 4%.”

Yates County Administrator Nonie Flynn

Low unemployment is an excellent indicator of a strong economy, but that does have drawbacks for some. Local businesses are clamoring for help on almost all levels across all industries. “Because our Yates County economy is doing so well, the small labor pool is making it very difficult for our businesses to find and keep employees,” said Flynn.

Joseph Davis, employment and training programs supervisor for Yates County, reports there are far more openings than job seekers in the county. “There has never been such a time during my career when there are so many opportunities for those in search of jobs,” he said.

Yet at the same time, Davis says the numbers of those on public assistance are higher than they have been in prior years. He says the DOL statistics are bases on robocalls made inquiring of those reported if they are actively seeking work. But Workforce has been prevented from mandating work search during the pandemic, and Davis says there has been no indication from the state when the mandate will return.

Steve Griffin, CEO of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (Yates County’s IDA) says that every employer he has spoken with needs workers.

“It’s a real struggle,” Griffin said in a phone interview as he was returning from a State Economic Development meeting in Albany. “Maybe it will improve once the Covid stimulus checks dry up,” he added.

“Obviously, the expanded federal unemployment benefits dis-incentivize many from returning to work,” agreed Flynn.

Steve Griffin, CEO of FLEDC

Griffin says that Yates County’s success in attracting new businesses has “added to the crunch” in what was already a tight labor market here across the entire career spectrum. “Anyone out there who is looking for work, I can virtually guarantee you will find a job in your field.”

“The economy is hot,” said Griffin. “I’ve never seen it like this.” He said the local hospitality industry is reporting “extremely strong sales this season,” then quickly corrected himself — “I mean record sales, for all time! Yates County was poised to boom just before Covid hit, and now that things have opened back up, people from the cities have discovered us and are now coming here.”

“We need to figure out a way to attract more people to live in the county to work,” Griffin said. He believes one of the most important components in attracting potential workers to the county is addressing the extreme shortage of affordable, middle class, single-family homes. Real estate prices and speed of sales have reflected this shortage for some time. 

Flynn says, that at the county level, they are also looking at what can be done to increase the local labor force. 

“Number one on our list and what we are currently working on is the expansion of broadband so all residents and businesses will have access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet,” said Flynn. “We are in the implementation phase of our $14 million USDA broadband grant, have applied for two more grants, and are working on applying for two other grants to expand to everyone. Expanded broadband not only gives more people the opportunity to work from home, but also encourages people to move to Yates County."

Yates County resources for job seekers