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Area gains jobs for 3rd month Unemployment rate falls to 4.9%

The financial services industry is emerging as a major bright spot for the Buffalo Niagara job market.

Thanks to strong growth in jobs among local finance and insurance firms, the Buffalo Niagara region extended its strongest three-month streak of job growth since the fall of 2004.

The region gained 3,500 jobs from March 2006 to March 2007 -- a 0.6 percent annual growth rate -- after adding jobs at a 0.7 percent pace in both January and February, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

While the region's manufacturers continue to struggle, shedding jobs at a 3 percent annual rate, the growth at local service firms has been even more widespread, creating three times as many new jobs as the area's factories have been losing.

"It's the beginning of a trend," said John Slenker, the labor department's regional economist in Buffalo. "I'll even say it is a trend next month if it continues."

Although the pace of job growth locally has picked up this year, it still hasn't caught up with the increase in jobs both nationally and across New York. Job growth here is less than half of the 1.4 percent pace nationally and less than the 1 percent rate across New York. And even with the recent growth, the local job market has been essentially stagnant over the last three years, with this year's gains bringing the number of jobs here roughly back to where it was three years ago.

While the labor department revised February's job growth downward by 500 jobs from the original estimate last month, the three-month improvement was the strongest since the region's jobs base grew by a combined 2.2 percent from August to October 2004.

The job growth during March was driven by a nearly 8 percent jump in finance and insurance jobs that resulted from a Labor Department revision of its earlier estimates, based on new, more detailed employment reports it received from companies. That resulted in a jump of 2,200 finance and insurance jobs, on top of a 1,400-job increase in health care and social assistance employment. Manufacturers shed 1,900 jobs.

Despite the improved pace of job growth locally, the region still ranked as a relative laggard among the state's 14 major metropolitan areas. Only Albany and Elmira, which both lost jobs over the last year, and Rochester had slower job growth than the Buffalo Niagara region. Ithaca and Syracuse grew at the same pace as the Buffalo Niagara region.

Job growth was even stronger in other parts of Western New York, jumping by 3.6 percent in Wyoming County, 3.2 percent in Genesee County and 1.7 percent in Allegany County. Employment increased by 0.9 percent in Cattaraugus County, while Chautauqua County, with a stagnant job market over the last year, was tied for the fifth weakest job market among the 40 metro areas and counties included in the Labor Department statistics.

Because of the job gains, the region's unemployment fell to 4.9 percent from 5.6 percent a year ago, although it remained above the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate of 4.5 percent nationally and 4.3 percent in New York.

The unemployment rate in Erie County slipped to 4.7 percent last month from 5.2 percent in February. The jobless rate in Niagara County dropped to 5.7 percent from 6.3 percent in February.

Here are the unemployment rates for March, February and March 2006 for the other counties in Western New York:

Allegany -- 6 percent, 6.6 percent and 6.2 percent.

*Cattaraugus -- 5.4, 6 and 6.

8Chautauqua -- 4.6, 5.2 and 5.2.

*Genesee-- 5, 5.8 and 5.8.

*Orleans -- 6.2, 6.6 and 6.8.

*Wyoming -- 5.5, 6.5 and 6.5.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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