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Jobless rate in region dropped in February 8.8 percent figure was three-year low for month

The unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region slipped to 8.8 percent during February -- the lowest level for that month since 2008, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The jobless level dropped from the more-than-20-year high of 9.5 percent it hit in February 2010 and was down from 9.1 percent in January. Still, unemployment levels remain at their highest for any February since 1992, at the peak of the early 1990s recession.

"It appears that we're headed in the right direction again," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo. But he also noted that jobless levels remain stubbornly high and that the region's sluggish pace of job growth will need to accelerate to bring unemployment rates back down to the 5 percent and 6 percent range that was common from the mid-1990s until the recession began battering the local job market in 2008.

Employment data released last week showed that 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.

But the data also showed that the region still has 13,300 fewer jobs than it did three years ago, before the recession began pounding 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.

In a separate report, the average weekly wage earned by workers in Erie County grew by 4.6 percent in 2010's third quarter, topping the 3.4 percent increase nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

The average weekly wage in Erie County rose to $773 last summer, which remains 11 percent below the national average of $870 despite the more rapid growth locally during the third quarter.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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