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A growing work force offset a modest increase in the number of jobs and helped push the unemployment rate in Erie and Niagara counties up to 5.2 percent during November, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.

The figure is up from 5.0 percent in October and 4.6 percent last November.

The increase in the jobless rate broke a string of three straight monthly declines, although the region continues to enjoy unusually low unemployment rates. Even with the increase, the November jobless rate was tied for fifth lowest in the last 23 years.

George P. Smyntek, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo, said the unemployment rate typically rises in November, as seasonal construction jobs wind down and hiring picks up for holiday retail positions.

"You've got a lot of seasonal activity," Smyntek said. "By any perspective, the numbers are still good."

Yet the November jobs report shows that the Buffalo area's overall economy remains sluggish, with the local job base growing just 0.3 percent, or 1,800 jobs, during the last year, while the state was growing at a 1.4 percent rate.

Still, the region's unemployment rate remained well below the state's jobless rate of 5.9 percent, although it was higher than the national rate of 4.3 percent on a seasonally unadjusted basis.

Even though the total number of jobs in the region grew to 547,600 from 545,800 a year ago, the unemployment rate rose because the area's labor force increased by 8,800 people, Smyntek said.

The biggest increase in the local jobs base came from area retail firms, which added 2,300 jobs to 133,100 as stores geared up for the holiday shopping rush. The only other parts of the local economy to add jobs last month were the government, which added 500 positions to 88,800, and manufacturing firms, which added 300 jobs to 89,700.

Those gains were tempered by a seasonal loss of 1,200 construction jobs to 21,900 and a 600-position decline in the service sector, which employs 159,900 and provides more jobs than any other part of the local economy.

Local transportation and public utility firms trimmed 400 jobs to 25,600, while finance, insurance and real estate companies pared 200 jobs to 28,500.

Erie County's jobless rate inched up to 5 percent from 4.9 percent in October and 4.3 percent a year ago.

In Niagara County, the unemployment rate jumped to 6.3 percent last month from 5.6 percent in October and 5.7 percent the year before.

In Buffalo, the unemployment rate rose to 8.4 percent last month from 8.2 percent in October and 7.3 percent a year ago. In Niagara Falls, the jobless rate spiked to 9.8 percent from 8.7 percent in October and 8.9 percent a year earlier.

Here are the unemployment rates for November, October and November 1996 for other Western New York counties:

Allegany -- 7.4 percent, 7 percent and 6.9 percent.

Cattaraugus -- 7.2, 6.8 and 6.7.

Chautauqua -- 5.7, 5.4 and 4.8.

Genesee -- 5.6, 4.9 and 4.8.

Orleans -- 5.9, 5.6 and 4.8.

Wyoming -- 7, 5.6 and 6.

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