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Local job market continues to grow despite downturn Growth is strongest in upstate New York

The Buffalo Niagara job market remained a beacon of strength in upstate New York last month.

A continued surge in hiring for what likely are lower-paying, part-time jobs at local restaurants helped the region add jobs at 0.4 percent pace over the last year, giving it the strongest job growth among the major upstate metropolitan areas, according to figures released Thursday by the state Labor Department.

"For now, we're doing OK," said John Slenker, the labor department's regional economist in Buffalo.

But Slenker warned that the September job data is based on information gathered just before the financial meltdown began on Wall Street last month. The impact of the turmoil in the nation's credit and financial markets will not be reflected in the local job figures until next month.

The region's unemployment rate, which inched up to 6.1 percent in September, reached a 15-year high for the month as more workers entered the labor force. Slenker believes the hiring at local bars and restaurants likely is a sign that more workers are looking to supplement their incomes by taking on part-time jobs or second jobs as food and gasoline prices rise.

That increase masked a flat private sector job market and helped offset a continued 3.3 percent decline in the region's better- paying factory jobs.

Still, the local job growth stands in contrast to the nationwide job market, which has lost jobs for nine straight months. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Niagara region has added jobs each month this year.

The region's 0.4 percent job growth rate was double the 0.2 percent statewide growth rate, which was fueled mostly by hiring downstate, the area now being hit hard by the current Wall Street crisis.

The Buffalo Niagara region added 2,100 jobs from September 2007 to September 2008, but without the 4,500 jobs added at the local bars, restaurants and hotels, the region's total employment would have declined.

Job growth was generally tepid in other parts of Western New York. The bright spot was in Wyoming County, which added jobs at a 0.7 percent annual pace during September, while job growth in Cattaraugus County was 0.3 percent. Job growth was flat in Allegany and Genesee counties, while it slid by 0.2 percent in Chautauqua County.

With the region's unemployment rate reaching its highest level since 1993, jobless levels here topped the 6 percent seasonally unadjusted nationwide rate and the 5.6 percent statewide rate.

The unemployment rate in Erie County inched up to 5.9 percent, while it slipped slightly to 6.5 percent in Niagara County from 6.6 percent in August.

Here are the unemployment rates for September, August and September 2007 for other Western New York counties:

*Allegany -- 6 percent, 6.5 percent and 4.7 percent.

*Cattaraugus -- 6.1, 5.8 and 4.6.

*Chautauqua -- 5.6, 5.4 and 4.1.

*Genesee -- 5.3, 4.8 and 4.

*Orleans -- 6.3, 7 and 4.5.

*Wyoming -- 5.2, 4.9 and 3.8.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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