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Region lost 300 jobs last year It was area's fifth year of losses in last six years

The Buffalo Niagara region's job market ended 2006 with a thud, capping its second straight year of job losses amid a slowly growing national economy.

For all of 2006, the region lost 300 jobs as the modest job growth of the winter, spring and summer turned into a four-month swoon that started in September and stretched through the rest of the year, according to state Labor Department statistics released Thursday.

The shifting fortunes of the local job market resulted in the area losing jobs at a 0.1 percent pace overall last year -- the Buffalo Niagara region's fifth year of job losses in the last six years.

While 2006, in its entirety, will go down as a year with a fairly stagnant local job market, the downturn was especially steep in December, the Labor Department said.

Preliminary figures for December indicate that the region lost 5,000 jobs from December 2005 to December 2006 as the local auto industry worked through a wave of buyouts and early retirements, while the since-settled Goodyear-Dunlop strike provided a temporary drag on the numbers and the lack of snow stopped much of the region's seasonal hiring.

"It showed a tremendous amount of weakness," John Slenker, the labor department's regional economist in Buffalo, said of the December-to-December slide.

"But it's not as bad as these numbers appear," he said. "The downturn that we've seen seems like it's magnified because of the strike and because there's no snow."

The strike by Goodyear-Dunlop workers in the Town of Tonawanda idled 1,100 employees until late December, but they were counted as unemployed because they were walking the picket lines at the time the labor department's survey was conducted, Slenker said. That accounted for roughly half of the 2,100 factory jobs that were lost from December 2005 to December 2006.

The warm winter weather, which has shut down the region's ski areas for nearly all of the current season, was a big factor in the 1,400 job drop in leisure and hospitality field.

Still, the job figures show that the Buffalo Niagara region has one of the weakest employment markets in the state and is lagging well behind the slowly expanding national economy.

While the local job market was shrinking at a 0.9 percent pace from December 2005 to December 2006, the state added jobs at a 0.7 percent pace and the nation was growing at a 1.4 percent rate.

None of the state's 13 other major metropolitan areas lost jobs during the December-to-December period, and among the state's rural areas, only Yates and Jefferson counties lost jobs at a faster pace.

While the rest of the country has been adding jobs for 37 straight months, the Buffalo Niagara region now has lost jobs on a year-to-year basis for four consecutive months, according to the labor department's preliminary figures, which will be revised in March.

Despite the job losses, the region's unemployment rate was flat at 4.5 percent in December, mainly because the labor force shrunk by 5,700 people from December 2005 to December 2006.

Still, the local unemployment rate was higher than the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate of 3.8 percent in New York and 4.3 percent nationally.

The unemployment rate in Erie County was unchanged at 4.4 percent, while the jobless rate in Niagara County rose to 5 percent last month from 4.7 percent in November. The unemployment rate in Buffalo fell to 5.2 percent last month from 5.5 percent in November, while jobless levels in Niagara Falls slid to 5.5 percent from 6.1 percent in November.

Here are the unemployment rates for December, November and December 2005 for the other counties in Western New York:

*Allegany -- 4.6 percent, 4.3 percent and 5.4 percent.

*Cattaraugus -- 4.6, 4.6 and 5.5.

*Chautauqua -- 4, 4.1 and 4.9.

*Genesee -- 4.4, 4.3 and 5.3.

*Orleans -- 5.2, 4.8 and 5.7.

Wyoming -- 4.7, 4.4 and 5.6.


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