Job growth in the Buffalo Niagara region ground to a halt in August.
Nonfarm employment, which includes both private- and public-sector jobs, fell by 400 – or 0.1 percent – last month compared with a year earlier, according to the state Department of Labor. It was the first such decline for the region on a year-over-year basis since December 2011.
Was this a one-month blip, or a sign of things to come?
John Slenker, a regional economist with the Labor Department, said it will take another month or two of data to identify whether a trend is developing, after seven straight months of year-over-year job growth.
"These numbers are weaker than we've seen in a long time," he said.
By comparison, nonfarm employment grew 1.4 percent at both the state and the national level in August.
Private-sector job growth in Buffalo Niagara was virtually unchanged from August 2011, increasing by 200 jobs to 454,100. Growth in private-sector employment has been slowing but remained ahead of last year's numbers on a year-to-date basis through August.
In specific job categories, the region reported declines in areas such as retail trade (down 1.5 percent) and professional and business services (down 4.3 percent).
Slenker said business and professional services include business-to-business services such as accounting and computer services. Temporary help agencies drive a lot of the activity in that category, he said, and the drop could be a sign of greater caution on the part of companies that use those services.
"It's too early to say if it's caused a change in direction, because that portion can be very volatile," Slenker said.
While some other categories also showed declines, including government employment (down 0.7 percent), not all areas were weak. Manufacturing, for instance, was up 2.5 percent from a year ago, to 53,400 jobs. That was the highest manufacturing job count for August in the region since 2008, according to Labor Department data.
Construction also held its own, with a 4.4 percent increase from last year, to 23,800 jobs.
Among government employment, there were some different trends. State jobs rose in August by 1.4 percent, while federal government jobs declined by 4.1 percent, and local government jobs dropped by 0.9 percent.
Slenker said he was not yet prepared to draw any broader conclusions about the local employment trend.
"We're going to have to see what happens," he said.