ITHACA, N.Y. — In its annual March revision of the previous year’s job count and unemployment rate, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that the number of jobs created in Tompkins County last year is far less than first thought.
Initially, BLS estimated Ithaca and Tompkins County gained 1,700 jobs in 2018 compared to 2017, for a 2.6 percent growth rate. That increase would be one of the highest year-over-year gains in New York state and above the national average.
The revised estimates show Ithaca and Tompkins gaining about 400 jobs in 2018, a growth rate of only 0.6 percent.
The March revisions are intended to review the past 24 months of jobs data. The preliminary figures that come out each month are often piecemeal and based off of random sampling. They’re intended to be indicative of market movement, but generally speaking, they’re not accurate. In an effort to try and make them accurate, the annual revisions look over more complete data and revise the monthly job reports accordingly. Usually, the way it goes is that the changes to the earliest few months are slight, and the closer the month is to the present, the more substantial the revisions tend to be.
In the current job data overhaul, the numbers for the first half of 2017 were revised upward, in some months by several hundred jobs, and the second half of the year was revised significantly downward, resulting in a wash for the year overall. In last year’s version of this article, the anomalous decreases in job totals for spring and summer 2017 were called out as suspect, and it would appear that with the latest revisions, the BLS agreed. Unfortunately, it also suggests that the job losses in the fall of 2017 are accurate, and are unlikely to be revised again.
Looking at the major employers, Cornell added 174 local positions in 2018, with its county employment rising to 10,132. Ithaca College’s employment fell by 25, to 1,708. According to Cayuga Medical Center’s John Turner, their headcount currently hovers between 1,550 and 1,580, an expansion of more than a hundred over last year’s total of 1,439. As for layoffs, technology hardware firm MACOM announced plans to lay off 47 from its Lansing facilities, and last June commercial printer Vanguard Graphics LLC announced plans to lay off 140 from their Dryden facility.
Last year, Martha Armstrong, the Vice President and Director of Economic Development Planning at Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD), argued that there is still plenty of hiring taking place in Tompkins County, but the ongoing retirements of the county’s baby boomer generation (of which Tompkins County has an unusually high percentage in the workforce) and the resulting time it takes to fill those positions has been blunting growth of the county’s workforce. To be fair, there’s nothing in the past year to suggest that argument has changed.
However, the Ithaca Business Index suggests things may have taken a turn for the worse. The index, run by Ithaca College economics professor Elia Kacapyr, looks at not only job counts and the labor force, but also real estate sales, help wanted advertising, average weekly hours worked, and retail sales.
According to Kacapyr, the newest revisions sank 2018’s economic growth calculations in Tompkins County last year, from 2.2 percent growth to 1.1 percent, the lowest value since 2015. For the sake of comparison, 2017’s economic growth was revised from 4.1 percent to 3.6 percent in the 2018 revision, and raised to 3.8 percent with the latest revision.