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AREA JOB BASE SHRINKS, BUT JOBLESS RATE HOLDS STEADY

The slump in manufacturing continued to take a toll on the Buffalo Niagara region's economy, with the area losing 1,800 jobs during the year since last September and extending the longest decline in the local job market in eight years, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

And the job losses may only get worse. The September job figures, which are based on data collected from Sept. 12-19, reflect little of the impact that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have had on the economy, said John Slenker, the labor department's economist in Buffalo.

The number of jobs at local factories fell to an all-time low of 83,300 during September, as cutbacks at the area's auto plants and their suppliers cut into the region's steadily declining manufacturing base. The region has lost 2,800 factory jobs over the last year, a 3.3 percent decline.

Overall, the 0.3 percent drop in the number of jobs in the region to 557,600 marked the sixth straight month of year-to-year job losses for the Buffalo Niagara area, which is mired in its most prolonged job decline since a 34-month slump that ran from December 1990 to September 1993.

And it means the Buffalo Niagara region's job market, which grew slower than the rest of the state and the country when the economy was expanding during most of the 1990s, is feeling more of the pain from the current slowdown than most other parts of New York and the country.

So while the Buffalo Niagara region was losing jobs, the state continued to add jobs at a 0.5 percent rate, while job growth nationally was flat. Excluding government jobs, the local slowdown was even worse, with the region losing jobs at a 0.4 percent pace, compared with 0.4 percent growth statewide, while the nation lost 0.3 percent of its private-sector jobs.

Among New York's 13 major metropolitan areas, only Jamestown's 2.6 percent plunge, Elmira's 2 percent drop, Binghamton's 1 percent decline and a 0.7 percent slide in Rochester were worse than the job loss in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region. Seven of the state's 24 rural counties -- Allegany, Franklin, Lewis, Otsego, Steuben, Schuyler and Wyoming -- had greater job losses on a percentage basis.

At the same time, though, unemployment remains relatively low by historic standards. The region's jobless rate held steady at 5 percent during September and was tied for the fourth-lowest local unemployment rate for the month in the last 27 years.

Aside from manufacturing, most other segments of the local job market held up during September. The number of transportation and public utility jobs hit an all-time high of 27,600, up 400 from a year ago, mainly because of growth by communications firms, Slenker said.

Finance, insurance and real estate jobs also hit a September high of 30,600, a 200-job increase over the year, while the region also added 500 service jobs to boost that sector's total to a September record of 174,600, Slenker said.

Employment in the trade sector was flat at 130,100, as was the construction sector at 23,100. The region also lost 100 of its 88,300 government jobs.

In Erie County, the unemployment rate held steady at 4.8 percent, while in Niagara County, it fell to 5.8 percent from 6 percent in August.

The jobless rate in Buffalo held steady at 8.1 percent, while the jobless rate in Niagara Falls slipped to 9.2 percent from 9.3 percent in August.

Here are the unemployment rates for other Western New York counties for September, August and September 2000:

Allegany -- 4.7 percent, 4.3 percent and 6 percent.

Cattaraugus -- 6.5, 5.8 and 5.8.

Chautauqua -- 5.4, 4.8 and 4.3.

Genesee -- 4.6, 3.8 and 3.9.

Orleans -- 5.3, 4.8 and 4.4.

Wyoming -- 4, 4 and 4.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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