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The Buffalo Niagara job market still is hurting, but in April at least, the bleeding nearly stopped.

While the slumping economy has cost the two-county region 800 jobs compared with the same time last year, the rate of decline, which amounted to 0.1 percent of all the area's jobs, has slowed steadily this year, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

So while the region still has endured four straight months of year-to-year job losses, it is showing signs of bottoming out after appearing to bottom out and start a modest recovery by stringing together four straight months of job gains over the final third of last year.

"It's levelling off a little bit," said John Slenker, the labor department's regional economist in Buffalo.

Over the last three years, the region has lost 12,100 jobs, a 2.2 percent decline that is more than twice as steep as the 1 percent nationwide decline over the same period.

But the decline slowed to a crawl in April. And if you don't count government jobs, the region's private sector employment was down by just 100 jobs over the last year.

"The New York state economy is slowly improving," said Stephen F. Kagann, Gov. George Pataki's chief economist. "Most regions are gaining jobs or are stronger than the nation, and the regions that are in decline are declining at a diminishing rate."

Much of what happens to the job market in the coming months will mirror shifts in the national economy, Slenker said. "As the U.S. economy improves -- and with the war in Iraq over -- you're going to see that filter down to the local job market," he said.

Another positive sign was the decline in the region's unemployment rate, which improved to 5.7 percent in April from a revised 5.9 percent in March and is below the national jobless rate of 5.8 percent and the 5.9 percent rate statewide.

The region's April job loss also was
milder than the 0.6 percent decline statewide, and the 0.5 percent drop in private-sector jobs nationally.

Most of the local decline continues to come from the region's manufacturers, which have shed 3,100 jobs over the last year -- a 4.3 percent drop. A quarter of the region's factory jobs have vanished over the last 14 years.

The slumping economy also has cut into the number of retailing jobs in the region, which have dropped by 1.1 percent over the last year, as major department stores, including Ames and Kmart, fell into bankruptcy and closed stores.

While the Buffalo Niagara region's job losses over the last year were just a fraction of the 2.1 percent decline in Binghamton and well below the 1.4 percent slump in Rochester, the area lagged behind upstate cities, such as Jamestown, Syracuse and Utica, which all enjoyed job growth rates of better than 0.4 percent.

The unemployment rate in Erie County fell to 5.3 percent in April from a revised 5.6 percent in March, while the Niagara County jobless rate slid to 7 percent from a 7.1 percent in March.

In Buffalo, the unemployment rate dipped to 9 percent from 9.4 percent in March and 9.3 percent a year ago. The jobless rate in Niagara Falls fell to 10.9 percent from 11.1 percent in March and was unchanged from a year earlier.

Here are the unemployment rates for other Western New York counties for April, March and April 2002:

Allegany -- 6.3 percent, 7.1 percent and 6.1 percent.

Cattaraugus -- 6.5, 6.6 and 7.2.

Chautauqua -- 5.7, 5.9 and 6.3.

Genesee -- 6.8, 7.2 and 6.6.

Orleans -- 7.3, 8 and 6.8.

Wyoming -- 6, 6.6 and 6.2.


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