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Local jobless rate falls to a nine-year low of 4.9 percent in July

Unemployment in the Buffalo Niagara region is at a nine-year low, with the jobless rate dropping to 4.9 percent during July from the previous year, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.

The July drop pushed the unemployment rate below 5 percent for the third month in a row and just the fourth time since the recession began in 2007.

It also was the first time in nearly nine years that the local jobless rate has been below 5 percent for three consecutive months.

“We’ve only had two years – 2007 and 2001 – that did that,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo.

The region’s unemployment rate has been falling steadily for the past four years, fueled by moderate job growth and a shrinking labor pool caused mainly by a stagnant population and a wave of retirements among older workers.

The local jobless rate peaked at 8.9 percent during July 2012 and has been falling at a rate that has averaged about 1 percentage point a year since then. The unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in July 2015.

The local unemployment rate was up slightly from 4.4 percent in May and June, but the three months are not directly comparable because the jobless data is not adjusted for seasonal factors.

Jobless levels locally are at their lowest levels since 2007, but still would have to decline further to approach the modern-day lows that were set in 2000, when unemployment dipped as low as 3.8 percent in October 2000 and hovered between that and 4.3 percent for the final 10 months of 2000.

The decline in unemployment during July comes as the region has slowly but steadily added jobs since late 2010, including an increase of 4,400 jobs from July 2015 to July 2016.

“We’ve had this long string of job growth,” Slenker said. “The excess labor supply is really tight right now.”

The unemployment numbers, which are based on a different survey than the job data, can be fairly volatile and also come with a margin of error that approaches 0.5 percentage points one way or the other.

The drop in the jobless rate left unemployment below the statewide rate of 5 percent and the national rate of 5.1 percent. None of the jobless rates are adjusted for seasonal factors.

Every other upstate metro area also had a big drop in unemployment, with the jobless rate in Rochester falling to 4.7 percent from 5.3 percent in July 2015; Syracuse to 4.7 percent from 5.5 percent a year ago; and Albany to 4.1 percent from 4.7 percent a year ago.

The drop in the Buffalo Niagara jobless rate stemmed from a combination of fewer unemployed people and a rising number of individuals with jobs. The number of people in the region who don’t have a job but were actively looking for one fell by 15 percent, or 4,800 people, from July 2015 to July 2016, the Labor Department said. That was the lowest for any July since 2001.

At the same time, the number of people who were employed during May rose by less than 1 percent, or 1,900 people, to the highest level for any July since 2010. That left the pool of available workers in the Buffalo Niagara region at its lowest level in at least 26 years, with the local labor force shrinking by 3,000 workers during the past year.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com

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