The unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region inched down during May to 7.5 percent, its lowest level since 2008, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.
The jobless rate was slightly better than April's 7.6 percent rate but is a substantial improvement from last May's 8.1 percent rate, as the region gained 2,200 jobs over the last year.
It was the lowest unemployment rate for any month since joblessness began spiking at the end of 2008 and the lowest May unemployment rate in three years.
Jobs within the private sector, which excludes government agencies, have grown for 14 straight months and expanded at a 1.1 percent annual pace during May. That offset the loss of 2,600 government jobs over the last year -- a 2.6 percent decline -- as cash-strapped agencies scrambled to cut costs, and temporary census jobs that bolstered hiring a year ago came to an end.
"We're actually fairly stable," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo. "We're not growing our jobs real fast, but they're steady."
The jobless rate dropped, in part, because the region has about 4,000 fewer unemployed workers than it did a year ago, but almost 16,000 more than it did before the recession started hammering the job market four years ago.
As a result, the region has a long way to go to get its job market back to where it was before the recession began. The May jobless rate, while improved, still is the third-highest for any May since 1990 and is far above the 5.5 percent jobless rate of May 2008, before the recession began to hurt the local job market.
The region still has 11,700 fewer jobs than it did in May 2008. At the current pace of job growth, it will take more than five years to recover those losses.
A report released earlier this week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors predicted that the recovery in the Buffalo Niagara region could occur faster. The report, prepared by economic consultant IHS Global Insight, predicted that the region would regain all of the jobs it lost during the recession by the first quarter of 2013.
About 48 cities in the United States are not expected to reach pre-recession job levels until after 2020. The report predicted that national jobless rate, now at 9.1 percent, will fall to 8.6 percent by the end of this year.