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The Buffalo Niagara job market took a turn for the worse in October, with the region shedding jobs at its fastest pace in six months as the local economy continues to struggle nearly three years after the national recession ended.

The region lost 2,200 jobs over the last 12 months, a 0.4 percent decline that was the third worst among the state's 13 major metropolitan areas, according to statistics released Thursday by the state Labor Department.

The job losses also accelerated from the late spring and summer, when the year-to-year change ranged from a loss of 0.2 percent to a small job gain during August.

Even so, the region's unemployment rate continued to decline, slipping to 5.5 percent last month from 5.6 percent in September -- a decline that was due mostly to a shrinking labor force, rather than an improving job market.

Despite the decline, the region's jobless rate for October still is the second-highest for the month in the last 11 years, while the 551,300 jobs in the area was the second-lowest for any October in the last eight years, down from 553,500 a year ago.

Beyond that, the statistics show that the area still lags behind the rest of the state and the country as the jobless recovery remains firmly rooted here, even as the nation has added jobs for 14 straight months and the state added jobs at a 0.7 percent rate over the last year.

In contrast, the Buffalo Niagara region has lost jobs in 12 of the last 14 months, on a year-to-year basis, while jobless levels here remained higher than the 5 percent statewide rate and the 5.1 percent rate nationally.

Much of the weakness locally stems from the continuing job losses at the region's factories, where employment is down 2 percent over the last year, although that rate of decline has been slowing over the last few months. "Manufacturing is actually doing a little better," said John Slenker, the labor department's regional economist in Buffalo.

Still, the 66,100 manufacturing jobs in the region is just 200 above the all-time low set in August. At the same time, service-producing jobs have been stable over the last year, as gains in finance and insurance offset weakness in the retail sector.

The unemployment rate in Erie County fell to 5.4 percent in October from 5.6 percent in September. In Niagara County, the jobless rate inched up to 5.5 percent from 5.4 percent in September.

In Buffalo, the unemployment rate dipped to 9.1 percent from 9.4 percent in September. The jobless rate in Niagara Falls inched up to 8.7 percent from 8.4 percent in September.

Here are the unemployment rates for the other Western New York counties for October, September and October 2003.

Allegany -- 6.1 percent, 6.3 percent and 7.4 percent.

Cattaraugus -- 5.9, 6.2 and 6.7.

Chautauqua -- 4.8, 5 and 6.1.

Genesee -- 5.7, 5.9 and 6.4.

Orleans -- 5.1, 5.1 and 6.3.

Wyoming -- 4.6, 4.5 and 5.2.


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