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Region adds 1,300 jobs over last year Area's unemployment rate declines to 5 percent

A strong summer construction season helped the Buffalo Niagara region add 1,300 jobs over the last year and push the area's unemployment rate down to 5 percent, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

The third straight month of year-over-year job growth puts the local economy back on a positive track after a four-month slump during the late winter and spring that illustrated the fragile nature of the region's recovery from the 2001 recession.

The region added 1,300 jobs from August 2004 to August 2005, a 0.2 percent annual increase that left the area with more jobs than it has had during any August in the last three years, although the growth rate remains one of the slowest among the state's metropolitan areas.

The region's private sector continues to heat up, adding 2,200 jobs over the last year -- a 0.5 percent increase -- with a two-thirds of the gain coming from the local construction and financial services industries.

"Lately we've been having gains over the last year," said John Slenker, the labor department's regional economist in Buffalo. "It's slow, but hopefully, we've crossed that threshold."

With construction under way on a new Niagara Falls casino and mortgage rates remaining low, construction jobs rose by 800 to their highest level for any August since 1990. Road construction work, which was delayed this spring because of a strike, also has been pushed into the late summer months, fueling further hiring, Slenker said.

Financial services also have been strong, adding 900 jobs over the year, led by steady hiring at GEICO's new customer service center in Amherst.

At the same time, local manufacturers continue to struggle, although the pace of job losses there has slowed markedly. The region still is down 900 factory jobs over the last year, but the 1.4 percent rate of decline is considerably slower than the drops of 2 percent or more that were common a year ago.

As a result, the region's job growth is just a fraction of the 1 percent growth rate statewide and even further behind the 1.7 percent growth nationwide. Within New York, the Buffalo Niagara region's job growth is the fourth-slowest among the state's 14 metro areas, trailing only Binghamton, Elmira and Rochester, which all have lost jobs over the last year.

And while the nation already has regained all of the jobs that were lost during the 2001 recession, the Buffalo Niagara region still has 12,600 fewer jobs than it did in August 2000, before the downturn began.

The modest job growth pushed the region's unemployment rate down to a three-year low of 5 percent from 5.6 percent during July, still higher than the 4.6 percent jobless rate statewide and the 4.9 percent national rate before seasonal adjustments.

The jobless rate in Erie County fell to 5 percent from 5.6 percent in July, while unemployment levels in Niagara County dropped to 5.1 percent from 5.8 percent in July.

The unemployment rate in Buffalo fell to 6.6 percent last month from 7.4 percent in July, while jobless levels in Niagara Falls dropped to 5.9 percent from 6.8 percent in July.

Here are the unemployment rates for other Western New York counties for August, July and August 2004:

Allegany -- 5 percent, 5.6 percent and 5.5 percent.

Cattaraugus -- 4.6, 5 and 5.2.

Chautauqua -- 4.2, 4.6 and 4.8.

Genesee -- 3.7, 4.2 and 4.4.

Orleans -- 5.3, 6 and 5.7.

Wyoming -- 4.5, 5.2 and 4.7.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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