ITHACA, N.Y. — On the surface, it looks like a really big deal. According to the New York State Department of Labor, from September 2015 to September 2016, the Ithaca-Cortland statistical area (Tompkins County and Cortland County) added 4,100 jobs, an increase of 5.9%, mostly in education and health services. That 4,100 figure is greater than the Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany job numbers combined. It was large enough that even the Buffalo News made note of it.

Not to put a damper on things, but the number’s probably a bit overblown, for the same reason we’ve called out job loss statistics in previous state press releasespreliminary samples are not good samples for a relatively small metropolitan area like Ithaca’s. Further to that, according to Tompkins County Area Development Vice President Martha Armstrong, the numbers are influenced by the region’s strong seasonal bias towards the academic year.

“Every September the colleges ramp up employment for the new school year.  This includes some increases in permanent jobs like teaching, food service, and such, and includes students who work on the campus during the year — as TA’s, RA’s, campus tour guides and all sorts of positions. If you look historically at the DOL [Department of Labor] reports over the past 10 years, the month to month bump (August to September)…has a pretty wide range of bumping from 2,000 to 6,000 additional jobs. Year over year the growth is steadier, but also somewhat erratic.  In both the month-to-month and year-over-year estimates, DOL has a wide margin of error for their estimates.  This is because we are a relatively small region.”

She continued, “I would say this year’s bump in the Education and Health Services sector reflects a wide margin of error, and not a huge, sudden increase in employment. The DOL’s annual averages are much more dependable for understanding trends.”

Now, this isn’t to say that the preliminary job numbers aren’t a good sign, because they mean that the initial sampling of local employers are hiring – but, they may not accurately portray the overall picture. As internet speak goes, YMMV, “your mileage may vary”.

The revised numbers for the year roll out the following March – so the first real gauge of 2016’s performance will come off the labor department’s presses in Spring 2017.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.