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The unemployment rate in Erie and Niagara counties rose slightly to 4.5 percent in November, but it still was well below the 5.3 percent rate in the state as a whole and the 5.8 percent national average.

According to figures released today by the state Labor Department, unemployment in the Niagara Frontier increased by 0.1 percent in November. It was well below the 5.2 percent rate of November 1989.

But those figures disguise a softening labor market, according to Ronald H. Scrace, senior economist in the Buffalo Office of the Labor Department.

"It indicates a diminished labor force participation, rather than less unemployment over the year," he said. "Many people have stopped looking for work."

The number of people employed in the Niagara Frontier fell over the 12-month period from 530,300 to 521,100. It's the first year-to-year job loss in the area since 1983.

Much of the job loss was in manufacturing, largely due to layoffs by the auto industry. The number of people employed in manufacturing was down by 1,200 to 97,400, the second lowest figure ever recorded. The lowest was 94,500 in January of this year.

The job loss is more significant considering that in November last year some 2,000 workers employed by New York Telephone were out on strike and thus not counted in the number of job holders.

Retailers also hired fewer workers than normal for the Christmas shopping season. The 1,600-job increase in the field was the smallest increase since 1981. It was 30 percent below the normal 2,200 rise.

In the service sector, which has been breaking employment records each month for the past three years, employment fell by 500 from the record October high of 148,600. The 148,100 service workers, however, was still the second highest on record.

In Buffalo, the November unemployment rate of 6.1 percent was down from the 6.2 percent October rate and the 7.1 percent rate in November 1989.

In Niagara Falls, the unemployment rate rose to 5.7 percent from 5 percent in October. It was 6.4 percent a year ago.

Among the state's 11 metropolitan areas, Poughkeepsie, as usual, had the lowest unemployment -- 3 percent.

New York City had a 7.4 percent rate. The five-county Rochester area had a 3.4 percent jobless rate.

Among counties, Erie County had a 4.5 percent unemployment rate in November, compared to 4.4 percent in October and 5.2 percent a year ago. Niagara County had a 5.4 percent rate, compared to 4.7 in October and 6.1 percent in November 1989.

In other Western New York counties the November rates and the past rates were:

Allegany County -- 4.9 percent in November, 4.5 in October and 5.9 percent in November 1989.

Cattaraugus -- 6.2, 5.2 and 7.

Chautauqua -- 5.1, 4.8 and 6.2.

Genesee -- 5.6, 4.8 and 6.1.

Orleans -- 6.9, 4.2 and 7.8.

Wyoming -- 6.2, 5.8 and 5.8.

The Bronx in New York City once again had the highest unemployment rate among counties in the state -- 9.1 percent. Tompkins County, which includes the college town of Ithaca, continued to have the lowest rate -- 2 percent.

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