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Employment in region improving meagerly; 1,500 jobs gained over past year

The Buffalo Niagara job market is getting better, but the rebound doesn't have much bounce to it.

The Buffalo Niagara region added jobs for the sixth straight month during February, extending the slow rebound in employment following the Great Recession. The region has gained 1,500 jobs over the last year -- a 0.3 percent increase -- as a pickup in hiring by private-sector employers offset cutbacks in government jobs, the state Labor Department reported Thursday.

A flurry of hiring at retailers and restaurants, and in business and professional services jobs fueled the job growth. At the same time, the region shed 500 government jobs, mostly because of cutbacks by state government and local schools.

"We're starting to see the effects of the recovery," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.

The state, departing from its long-standing practice, did not release unemployment statistics for February. Under new guidelines imposed by the federal government, monthly unemployment figures will be released Tuesday, five days after the local employment data is disclosed.

Yet the jobs data also indicates that the recovery in local employment remains tepid. The pace of job growth locally over the last year is half as robust as the statewide growth rate of 0.6 percent and less than a third of the 1 percent increase nationally during the same period.

The same trend holds true for private-sector jobs, where the 0.5 percent increase locally is less than half the 1.2 percent increase statewide and slightly better than a third of the 1.4 percent increase across the United States.

Slenker said the slower growth locally reflects the continued struggles of the region's manufacturers, which remain in their decades-long decline, while factories nationally have been adding jobs for five straight months.

"We don't have the same kind of bounce back," Slenker said, noting that the job losses at local factories have been slowing in recent months, easing to just 300 jobs over the last year as the region's auto supply plants have stabilized.

Even after February's job growth, the region still has 13,300 fewer jobs than it did three years ago, before the recession began battering the local job market. At the current rate of growth, it would take about 8 1/2 years for the region to regain all of the remaining jobs it lost during the downturn.

Among the state's 13 biggest metro areas, the Buffalo Niagara region's job growth ranks as the ninth-fastest, topping the 0.2 percent increase in Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties and the job declines in Albany, Binghamton, Poughkeepsie and Utica.

The pace of job growth was much faster in some rural portions of Western New York, where Wyoming County added jobs at a 2.3 percent annualized pace, and growth hit 1.8 percent in Genesee County. Allegany County added jobs at a 0.6 percent pace, while Chautauqua County lost jobs at a 0.6 percent annual rate, and Cattaraugus County had a 0.9 percent drop.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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