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Buffalo Niagara jobless rate fell to 7.3% last month

The unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region fell to 7.3 percent during August – its lowest rate for that month since the recession began – as the modest pickup in hiring helped more workers find jobs.

The drop in the jobless rate last month continued a declining unemployment trend that began during March and has continued throughout the summer, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The jobless rate last month was the lowest unemployment level for any August since 2008, but it remained well above the relatively low levels of unemployment that the region enjoyed during most of the 1990s and the 2000s, when rates hovered between 4 percent and 6 percent.

The local jobless rate last month matched the U.S. unemployment rate, without adjusting for seasonal factors, and was slightly lower than the statewide rate of 7.5 percent, even though unemployment across upstate New York was lower, at 7.1 percent.

With the region creating jobs at a 0.9 percent annual pace during August, more workers decided to start looking for a job. Roughly 2,600 new workers began looking for jobs last month, compared with a year ago, but the local job market was more than able to absorb them.

Nearly 9,000 more workers were employed last month than during August 2012, while the ranks of the unemployed dropped by more than 6,000 people.

The Labor Department, in a separate report last week, said local employers added 5,000 jobs over the past 12 months to bring the area within a whisker of where it could claim to have recovered all of the jobs it lost during the Great Recession. Hiring was even stronger among the region’s private-sector businesses, which added jobs at a more robust 1.4 percent annual pace. But those gains were offset by job cuts at cash-strapped government agencies and continued weakness among manufacturers.

“The strength in the service-providing industries has started to overshadow the losses in manufacturing and even construction,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo.

Even so, the local job market has a long way to go to get back to where it was before the recession. The number of people looking for work is almost 60 percent higher than it was in August 2007. The 7.3 percent jobless rate ranks as the fifth-highest for any August since 1990.

But there has been improvement from the darkest days of the Great Recession. The quicker hiring pace has helped slash the number of people who were looking for work but couldn’t find a job by almost 13 percent during the past year and reduce the ranks of the unemployed to its lowest level for any month since December 2008, before the recession began hammering the local job market.

At the same time, the number of people who were employed in the Buffalo Niagara region grew by 1.6 percent during the past year and was at its highest level for any August since 2009. But the region still has 22,200 fewer people who are employed than it did in August 2005.

Among the state’s 14 major metro areas, Buffalo Niagara’s unemployment rate was tied for the eighth-lowest, with Utica and Syracuse. Only Binghamton, Elmira, Kingston and New York City had higher jobless rates.