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Jobless rate fell to 8.6% in March for region Beat February's 9.1%, but up from year ago

The Buffalo Niagara region's unemployment rate slipped to 8.6 percent in March, despite a growing labor force offsetting some of the gains from accelerating job growth.

The jobless rate was down from 9.1 percent in February. However, unemployment remains higher than it was a year ago, when it stood at 8.3 percent. The jobless rate is still the third-highest for any March since the 1980s, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The strengthening pace of job growth during March in the Buffalo Niagara region brought out more job seekers, keeping the jobless rate high. Many of those workers had dropped out of the labor force during the recession because they became discouraged in their job searches.

Once those workers stopped actively looking for jobs, they no longer were counted in the local unemployment rate. But now that they have resumed hunting for jobs, often because their perception of the job market has improved, they are counted as unemployed.

Unemployment typically declines from February to March, although this year's drop was slightly bigger than usual, partially due to the uptick in job growth, which accelerated to a 1 percent annual pace from March 2011 to March 2012.

"We're rebounding," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.

But the impact of the stronger job growth was partially offset by a nearly 3 percent increase in the number of unemployed workers in the region, which rose to 48,500 in March. The region has 20,400 more unemployed workers than it did before the recession began five years ago.

At the same time, job growth in the region has been trailing the rest of the state and the nation. The 1 percent local job growth lagged behind the 1.5 percent increase nationally and the 1.7 percent rise statewide during March.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 8.6 percent in the region is better than the statewide jobless rate of 8.7 percent but higher than the 8.4 percent U.S. rate.

The region's rate ranks in the bottom third among the state's 14 major metropolitan areas, better than only New York City, Glens Falls, Syracuse and Utica.