Buffalo Niagara resumes slow job growth, after a dismal December - The Buffalo News

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Buffalo Niagara resumes slow job growth, after a dismal December

The Buffalo Niagara job market started growing again during January after slowing to a standstill in December.

The region added jobs at a 0.7 percent annual pace in January, resuming the modest job growth that had been in place for most of the past three years, the state Labor Department reported Thursday. The region had 3,700 more jobs in January than it did during January 2013.

But the report also revised the employment numbers for December, with the new data showing that the local job market was far weaker at the end of last year than previously reported. The updated figures, based on more complete unemployment insurance records filed by companies, show that the region lost 4,300 jobs comparing December 2012 with December 2013, rather than the gain of 5,100 jobs that preliminary figures from the Labor Department had indicated.

“We had a stronger than normal downturn in December,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo, although the decline in the job market that normally occurs in January as holiday jobs come to an end was smaller this year.

“Normally, you get less of a drop in December and more of one in January. The impact of the winter weather started earlier than normal,” Slenker said. “We’ve had this very bad winter, and I think it’s slowed us down.”

Taking into account fluctuations in the market throughout the year, rather than just a one-month snapshot, the revised data also shows that job growth during all of 2013 was much more sluggish than previous reports had shown, averaging a gain of 0.4 percent during the year. That’s half as fast as the preliminary data had indicated.

As a result, job growth locally has slowed for two straight years, with employment here expanding at a rate far slower than both the state and national averages.

But the jobs report also had some bright spots. The region’s 538,500 jobs during January still topped the peak heading into the Great Recession, which started in late 2007. That means the region has recovered all of the jobs it lost during the downturn, something that it failed to do following the 2000 recession.

“We’ve been performing pretty well since the Great Recession relative to the way we’ve traditionally rebounded after recessions,” said Gary Keith, regional economist at M&T Bank. “We’ve recaptured our private-sector job count while the country is still sort of catching up to that.”

Nearly all of the job growth during January came from the private sector, which added jobs at a 0.8 percent annual pace. That growth dwarfed the sluggish growth in government employment, which increased at a 0.3 percent annual rate during January.

“The thing I like about the economy right now in Buffalo is that it’s pretty diversified as far as the things that are contributing,” Keith said.

Retailers and temporary employment agencies, along with educational services, led the way in hiring during January, with each growing by more than 2 percent over the past year. On the downside, the construction and financial services sectors each shrunk by 3 percent, while factory jobs fell by 1.6 percent.

The January job growth, while much stronger than the average increase of 0.2 percent upstate, still was well behind the gains enjoyed by the rest of the state and across the country. Job growth here was less than half the national growth rate of 1.7 percent and also lagged behind the statewide gain of 1.3 percent.

“Sure, we’d like to see faster growth than what we’re seeing, but I think in the past often what we’ve seen is one sector might be contributing, and you have two or three that are really laggards,” Keith said. “Outside of manufacturing right now, you don’t see a lot of the real drags on the economy.”

The January job gains put the Buffalo Niagara region in the top half for growth among New York’s 14 major metropolitan areas, ranking fifth overall. Job growth was fastest downstate, topping 2 percent in New York City. The pace of hiring also was stronger in Kingston, Nassau and Suffolk counties and Poughkeepsie.

Hiring was weak across the rural counties of Western New York, with Genesee County the hardest hit, losing 0.8 percent of its jobs. Allegany County lost jobs at a 0.6 percent annual pace, while the decline was 0.3 percent in Cattaraugus County and 0.2 percent in Chautauqua County. The lone bright spot was in Wyoming County, where the number of jobs grew by 0.8 percent.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com

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