Associate economist with the NYS Department of Labor, a SUNY Oswego grad, helps the media and the public understand trends in local labor, jobs
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Karen Knapik-Scalzo is the person most in the media seek when they’re writing stories about local unemployment, employment trends, salaries or other key labor-related statistics.
She usually has what they need: accurate, precise information about the labor market and the local economy.
Now Knapik-Scalzo, associate economist with the New York State Department of Labor Division of Research and Statistics in Syracuse, has a new number to acknowledge: 30 years on the job.
The SUNY Oswego grad has always loved math, business, marketing and economics, which has made working with labor statistics her dream job.
Knapik-Scalzo grew up in Scotia, in the Albany area. While in high school, she visited a variety of colleges across the state, including SUNY Oswego.
“I fell in love with the SUNY Oswego campus,” she said. “I wanted a mid-sized school. SUNY Albany was huge. Oswego was a nice fit.”
She double majored in business administration and economics. After graduation, she gained employment at a different state agency, the Division of Military and Naval Affairs in Latham. She had worked there some summers during college, so it was an easy transition.
Since they lacked an economist position, she started looking at other state agencies that employed economists, including the State Department of Education. They were not hiring. But the Department of Labor was hiring economists.
Knapik-Scalzo got the job and began working as an economist trainee. That progressed to a full economist, senior economist and now an associate economist.
As she works in civil service, she had to take a civil service exam for each advancing job title.
“You have to do well on it,” she added.
Any person seeking information on the labor market is a customer of her department. Besides members of the media who need statistics for articles, she also provides information for job seekers, those looking to change careers, schools, students, businesses, other government agencies and grant writers.
“Our customer base is so broad,” she added. “Each day varies, which is one of the things I like about my job. I could be answering a data request for certain types of data, a Power Point presentation about our region or a write-up about the local economy for Central New York.
“I might need to attend a meeting to provide statistics about the local economy and do conference calls with other customers.”
She must also keep up with reading about the local economy and other business news in the region.
Knapik-Scalzo said that the title of “economist” can apply to many types of jobs and there are so many specialties. As a labor economist, she could specialize in banking, public utility or agriculture.
Her office provides business services that work directly with other businesses. Knapik-Scalzo represents one of the 10 statewide economists that focus on one of each of the 10 regions.
She hopes that additional vaccine distribution will help more businesses loosen up and begin operating normally again.
“Once they can hire staff and expand, we should see a turning point,” she said. “Prior to the whole pandemic, we were hitting very high job numbers and record low unemployment rates. We had a very robust economy. Many industries were doing well and employers were complaining of labor shortages. Healthcare was doing very well.”
Knapik-Scalzo and her husband, John, have two children, Ashley, a graduate student at Nazareth College graduating this spring and Kyle, a student at SUNY Oswego studying math and coaching.
Knapik-Scalzo enjoys walking her dog, reading, gardening, swimming, playing tennis and badminton and spending time at the family camp in the Albany area.
She feels lucky to have work she enjoys.
“It used to be very common to stay with one place and now you don’t see it as much,” she said. “There’s definitely more transitioning than there used to be. I enjoy my job. I have a great employer.”