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Region’s accelerated hiring puts it on pace to double 2014

The Buffalo Niagara job market’s hot streak is stretching into spring.

The 1.4 percent increase in jobs over the last year extended a four-month spurt of accelerated hiring that has the region on pace so far this year to grow twice as fast as it did in 2014.

It also has cemented the local job market’s recovery from the Great Recession. In addition, during each of the last three months, the growth has pushed the number of jobs above their levels heading into the 2001 recession – a downturn that the region never came close to recovering from until now.

“We’ve finally caught ourselves back up,” said Frederick G. Floss, an economist at SUNY Buffalo State.

The growth spurt also pushed the region’s job market to several other milestones during April:

• Job growth locally now has averaged 1.4 percent during the first four months of this year, roughly double the 0.7 percent increase in jobs the region experienced during all of 2014.

• The number of private-sector jobs hit an all-time high for April, rising by 1.8 percent over the last year.

• Construction jobs – one of the driving forces in last month’s hiring spurt with an 11 percent increase over the last year – hit an all-time high for April.

• The region’s slow but steady growth in its job market now has continued for 32 straight months – the longest period of uninterrupted growth since 1990, according to state Labor Department data.

“I’m liking what I’m seeing,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo.

“We’re growing at a better pace, but we’re not at the point where you’re worried about a bubble,” Slenker said. “This pace could be sustainable for a long time, and you’re at growth rates where you could see the area start to become attractive to people wanting to move here.”

Whether the pickup in hiring will lead to higher wages isn’t clear. Wages tend to rise later in the employment cycle, once the discouraged workers who stopped looking for jobs during the downturn are lured back into the employment market and find positions, Slenker said. Only then, as businesses face rising competition for new hires, are wages likely to face stronger upward pressure.

For the moment, Floss notes that the labor participation rate nationwide still is low. “That means there’s still slack in the job market,” he said, although certain skilled occupations – from electricians and plumbers to workers in science, engineering and technology – are already seeing wage gains.

The region added 7,500 jobs from April 2014 to April 2015, with all of the hiring coming from the private sector, offsetting continued softness in government jobs, especially at state agencies.

The hiring gains in April were fairly widespread throughout the private sector, led by a strong rebound in the construction sector, which added 2,100 jobs during the past year as work continued on a handful of big projects, from the HarborCenter and RiverBend to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and seasonal roadwork got underway after a harsh winter.

Financial services firms added jobs at a 2.8 percent annual pace, while agencies providing temporary help had 7 percent more positions last month than they did in April 2014. Jobs in professional and business services grew by 3.4 percent over the last year. Local factories, long a weak spot in the local job market, added jobs at a 1.1 percent annual pace during April.

Those gains offset continued weakness in the government sector, which shed 600 jobs during the last year for a 0.7 percent decline.

While the job growth locally matched the gains statewide, hiring is more robust in other parts of the country. Nationwide, job growth averaged 2.2 percent, more than a third faster than the local increase over the last year.

Among the state’s 14 major metropolitan areas, Buffalo Niagara’s job growth was the third-strongest, trailing only the 2.4 percent increase in New York City and the 2.1 percent jump in hiring in Elmira.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com