Local unemployment rate holds steady at 4.9% in October - The Buffalo News

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Local unemployment rate holds steady at 4.9% in October

The Buffalo Niagara region's unemployment rate continued to hover around 5 percent during October, extending a stretch of modest joblessness that has left unemployment at a nine-year low.

The region's unemployment rate stood at 4.9 percent during October, unchanged from a year ago, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The jobless rate was slightly lower than September's 5 percent rate, although the two months aren't directly comparable because the unemployment rates are not adjusted for seasonal factors.

The region’s jobless levels have 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.

 "Anytime we're in the 4 percent range, or even the low five percent range, those are very good numbers for the Buffalo Niagara region," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.

The October unemployment report stood out for the picture of stability it painted in the region's job market.

While the unemployment rate didn't change from a year ago, the make-up of the labor force also was relatively unchanged. The number of people who are employed and the number who are unemployed were virtually the same last month as they were in October 2015. The region's pool of available workers, which tends to grow as job opportunities become more abundant, also was essentially the same size as it was a year ago.

The number of people with jobs in the Buffalo Niagara region grew by 100 over the past year and is at a five-year high. The number of unemployed people inched up by 200, leaving the overall labor force up by 300 people over the past year.

"It's steady, and for us, that's the key thing: To not ride up and down on the pogo stick," said Gary Keith, M&T Bank's regional economist in Buffalo.

The stability stems partly from a shortage of workers with in-demand skills, especially in advanced manufacturing, Slenker said. As a result, the skills gap is making it hard for employers to fill some types of jobs, while a lack of in-demand skills is making it hard for some unemployed workers to find jobs.

"We're butting up against the work force," Slenker said. "There may be a skills mismatch, but there isn't a lack of jobs."

Jobless levels 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 local unemployment is slightly below the statewide rate of 5 percent but is a little higher than the national rate of 4.7 percent. None of the jobless rates are adjusted for seasonal factors.

Other upstate metro areas also had modest changes in unemployment, with the jobless rate in Rochester rising to 4.6 percent from 4.5 percent in October 2015; Syracuse declining to 4.6 percent from 4.7 percent a year ago; and Albany slipping to 4 percent from 4.1 percent a year ago.

"The balance that we're seeing is encouraging," Keith said. "For us, boring can be good."

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