The Buffalo Niagara region's unemployment rate held steady at 9.1 percent during February, while local joblessness remains at its second-highest level since the 1980s, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.
With the pace of job growth locally picking up steam in February, more unemployed workers were out looking for jobs, keeping the jobless rate high.
"When the recession started, what you had was people who were unemployed, but they gave up looking," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.
Once those workers grew discouraged and stopped looking for jobs, they no longer were counted in the local unemployment rate, which measures the number of workers who are actively seeking employment but can't find it.
"As the economy starts to improve, people start to re-enter the workforce," Slenker said. "It's actually a positive sign, because they're seeing opportunities."
The local unemployment rate actually is higher than it was a year ago, when it stood at 8.8 percent.
But if the jobless rate is adjusted for seasonal factors, unemployment in the Buffalo Niagara region has been slowly -- but fairly steadily -- declining for the last 2 1/2 years.
February was a modest bump in that downward trend, with the region's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate inching up to 7.9 percent in February, compared with 7.8 percent in January. Jobless levels have dropped slowly since they peaked at 8.9 percent in September 2009.
The increase in the unemployment rate resulted from a nearly 2 percent increase in the number of unemployed workers in the region, which rose to 51,900 in February, the highest level in 13 months. The region has 20,600 more unemployed workers than it did before the recession began five years ago.
At the same time, job growth in the region has been relatively slow, running at about half the national average since fall, despite a pickup in local hiring during February. While that boosted the job growth rate locally to an annual rate of 0.7 percent in February, it was less than half the nationwide growth of 1.5 percent.
As a result, the tepid local job growth has failed to make a major dent in the number of unemployed, which has topped 50,000 in February for four straight years.
The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 9.1 percent in Buffalo Niagara is less than the statewide jobless rate of 9.2 percent, but higher than the 8.7 percent U.S. rate.
The region's rate ranks in the middle of the pack among the state's 14 major metropolitan areas, topping New York City, Binghamton, Elmira, Glens Falls, Syracuse and Utica.