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Area lost 600 jobs over the last year Unemployment rate rises to 5.4% in November

The Buffalo Niagara job market cooled in November, with the local unemployment rate jumping to 5.4 percent amid job growth that remains among the weakest in New York, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

The region's job market took a turn for the worse for the first time in six months during November, but a local economist blamed all of the drop on a spike in temporary workers hired for last year's presidential election that inflated the 2004 job count.

Without those temporary 2004 hires -- some for as little as a day -- the region would have continued the tepid job growth that it has maintained since late spring, said John Slenker, the labor department's regional economist in Buffalo.

Overall, the region lost 600 jobs over the last year, including nearly 2,000 temporary election jobs that inflated the November 2004 numbers, leading to a 0.1 percent decline in the Buffalo Niagara job count.

But Slenker said the temporary election workers from last year masked what otherwise was continued, slow improvement in the region's job market, especially among private employers and the local service industries.

"Overall, I thought we looked pretty good last month," he said. "The rest of the numbers are pretty strong."

Yet even after discounting for the blip in election-related hiring, the region's job market remains far weaker than most other metro areas in New York and far slower than the country as a whole.

While the Buffalo Niagara region lost jobs over the last 12 months, the state added jobs at a 0.8 percent annual rate, while the growth rate nationally was 1.5 percent.

The region's job market also remains one of the slowest among the state's metropolitan areas. Within New York, the Buffalo Niagara region's job growth is the third-slowest among the state's 14 metro areas, trailing only Elmira and Rochester, which lost jobs over the last year at a rate of 1 percent or more.

The bright spot was the region's private sector, which added 1,900 jobs over the last year -- a 0.4 percent increase -- with much of the increase coming from the local construction and financial services industries.

The mild fall weather helped the local construction industry stretch its strong summer into November, with that sector's employment jumping by 700 to their highest level for any November since 1990. Much of the region's road construction work was delayed this spring because of a strike, pushing more of the activity into the late summer and fall, fueling further hiring.

The financial services industry also has been consistently strong, adding 1,100 jobs over the year, led by steady hiring at GEICO's new customer service center in Amherst.

The region's long-suffering manufacturing base continued to struggle, losing 1,100 jobs. The region's 65,300 factory jobs are barely above the modern-day low.

"We're seeing a lot of interest in companies seeking people in the accounting and financial fields, as well as in engineering," said Tim O'Brien, managing director at Spherion Corp., a Rochester-based staffing firm.

And while the nation already has regained all of the jobs that were lost during the 2001 recession -- and added 1.7 million more -- the Buffalo Niagara region still has 11,900 fewer jobs than it did in November 2000, before the downturn began.

That helped push the region's unemployment rate up to 5.4 percent from 4.5 percent in October, leaving jobless levels here above the 5.3 percent rates across both New York and the 4.8 percent rate for the entire country, on a seasonally unadjusted basis.

The unemployment rate in Erie County rose to 5.4 percent last month from 4.5 percent in October, while unemployment levels in Niagara County jumped to 5.8 percent from a revised 4.7 percent in October.

Here are the unemployment rates for other Western New York counties for November, October and November 2004:

*Allegany -- 5.3 percent, 4.3 percent and 5.3 percent.

*Cattaraugus -- 5.2, 4.2 and 5.3.

*Chautauqua -- 4.9, 3.9 and 4.9.

*Genesee -- 4.9, 3.8 and 5.1.

*Orleans -- 5.6, 4.5 and 5.6.

*Wyoming -- 5.5, 4.1 and 5.4.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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