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Region's jobless rate is lowest in 3 years; But is still higher than before recession

The unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region dropped to 7.3 percent in August -- its lowest level since 2008, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The jobless rate was better than the region's 7.7 percent unemployment rate in July and was a considerable improvement from last August's 7.9 percent rate, as the region gained 7,100 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 jobless rate for any August in the last three years.

"It's stubbornly high, but it is coming down," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.

The declining unemployment rate reflects the recent pickup in the pace of job growth locally, which has run at an annual pace of 1.3 percent or better for the past three months. The region has added jobs for 12 consecutive months, while the private sector has grown for 17 straight months.

While the August job numbers were depressed by roughly two-tenths of 1 percent because of the strike by about 1,100 local Verizon Communications workers, the work stoppage did not have an impact on the August unemployment rate.

The stoppage affected job numbers because the figures released last week are based on a snapshot of who is working at a particular time, Slenker said. In contrast, for the unemployment rate calculations, the then-striking Verizon workers were considered to still hold the jobs they had left during the two-week work stoppage.

"They had a job. They were not at work," Slenker said.

The jobless rate dropped, in part, because the region has roughly 4,200 fewer unemployed workers than it did a year ago, but still 15,000 more than it did before the recession started hammering the job market four years ago.

At the same time, the size of the local labor force also has shrunk, through a combination of the region's decreasing population and a rising pool of workers who are either too discouraged to look for work or have dropped out of the work force while they learn new skills, Slenker said.

Even with the improvement, the region has a long way to go to get its job market back to where it was before the recession. The August jobless rate is still the third-highest for any August since 1990 and is far above the 4.6 percent jobless rate of August 2007, before the recession began.

The local jobless rate, while far below the 9.1 percent national rate, was slightly higher than the 7.2 percent unemployment rate across upstate New York. Among the 10 major upstate metropolitan areas, only Kingston, Binghamton and Syracuse had higher unemployment rates during August.

The statewide jobless rate was 7.7 percent.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com

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