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Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate still high at 9.2%

The Buffalo Niagara region has experienced four years of continuous private- sector job growth, but the region’s unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high – 9.2 percent for February, the state Labor Department reported.

“The unemployment rate is like giving you the temperature in Buffalo” but not giving the wind chill, said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “The other numbers are more like the wind chill. One number does not give you the entire read on the local economy.”

Slenker said the region is actually on the road to recovery, albeit slowly. Since March 2010, there has been steady job growth in the private sector, totaling about 18,000 new jobs locally, he said. In February there were 447,500 jobs, up about 3,000 from a year ago.

Slenker said the new jobs have been in areas such as retail trade, wholesale trade, transportation. health and financial service. He said manufacturing also is making a slow and steady comeback. “The private sector is rebounding – we’re still not out of the woods, but we’re on the right track,” he said.

As the economy improves, more people enter the market looking for jobs, pushing up the unemployment rate.

The region’s jobless rate fell slightly from 9.6 percent in January to 9.2 percent in February, the same as a year ago. In Buffalo, it was 11 percent in January, 11.2 percent in February and 11 percent in February 2012. In Niagara Falls, it was 12.7 percent this February and last, and 12.9 percent in January.

Statewide, it was 8.4 percent in February, and private-sector jobs increased by 81,500 from February 2012 to February 2013. The county with the highest unemployment rate in the state was Lewis County, east of Watertown, with 13 percent; Tompkins County, where Ithaca is located, posted the lowest rate at 5.8 percent.

Slenker said the recession was devastating and protracted, and the area’s manufacturing and public education jobs took especially hard hits. He said it took years for the unemployment rate to get as high as it is, and it will take time for the job growth to make an impact on the jobless rate.

“As the private-sector growth continues, it will be able to absorb more people, and that will lower the unemployment rate,” he said. “It’ll take time. There’s no magic bullet. This was a bad recession.”