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SLOW AREA JOB GROWTH PUTS UNEMPLOYMENT AT 5.8%

The Buffalo area added jobs at less than a third of the pace of the rest of the state last year as the region continued to miss out on much of the job growth that other parts of New York and the country are enjoying, according to new statistics released Wednesday.

Revised year-end job data from the state Labor Department and new statistics for January show that unemployment remains low in the Buffalo-Niagara region, but the area's job growth remains among the slowest in the state.

The two-county region added jobs at a 0.6 percent pace last year, which was less than a third of the statewide growth rate of 2.1 percent and the 2 percent national rate. Buffalo's job growth was less than half the 1.3 percent rate across upstate New York.

That trend continued during January, when the region's job growth rate of 0.3 percent was just one-sixth the statewide growth rate of 1.8 percent.

The Buffalo area's job growth last year was slower than any other major metropolitan area in the state, except for Elmira's 0.5 percent job loss last year.

Even excluding government jobs, the Buffalo region's private-sector job growth rate of 0.3 percent last year was less than one-sixth the statewide growth rate of 2.3 percent and a quarter of the 1.2 percent improvement upstate.

During January, the region's private sector job growth rate of 0.3 percent was one-seventh the statewide rate of 2.1 percent.

The region's unemployment rate, however, remains at record lows. The jobless rate rose to 5.8 percent in January from 4.9 percent in December as retailers cut back after the end of the holiday shopping season and schools had fewer workers because of holiday vacations, said George P. Smyntek, the labor department's regional economist in Buffalo.

That unemployment rate was the region's lowest for a January in at least the last 28 years, Smyntek said.

The region's job base also is bigger than ever. The region added 1,600 jobs during January, pushing the area's job count to an all-time high for January of 547,200.

The employment figures show that the Buffalo-Niagara job market slowed considerably last year, with job growth running at less than half the region's 1.6 percent rate during 1999. Private-sector job growth was just one-sixth of 1999's 1.8 percent pace.

The strongest part of the local economy remains the service sector, which has added 800 jobs over the last year and provided 169,700 positions during January. Local finance, insurance and real estate firms also have been hiring, adding 600 jobs to 30,100, while transportation and public utilities have added 100 jobs to 26,300 and government jobs are up 100 to 89,600.

On the downside, local manufacturers have cut 300 jobs and now provide 85,700, while the number of trade jobs is down 300 to 127,800. The construction sector is flat at 18,000.

The unemployment rate in Erie County rose to 5.4 percent from 4.6 percent in December, while the jobless rate in Niagara County increased to 7.6 percent from 6.1 percent in December.

In Buffalo, the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent in January from 7.8 percent in December, while the jobless rate in Niagara Falls rose to 11.7 percent from 9.5 percent.

Here are the unemployment rates for other Western New York counties for January, December and January 2000:

Allegany -- 8.1 percent, 6.3 percent and 9.7 percent.

Cattaraugus -- 7.6, 6.4 and 8.2.

Chautauqua -- 5.8, 5 and 5.9.

Genesee -- 6.1, 5.1 and 7.

Orleans -- 6.9, 5.5 and 7.

Wyoming -- 7.7, 6.2 and 9.4.

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