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Region’s jobless rate falls to 6 percent in May

The Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate dipped to 6 percent in May, better than the state’s rate of 6.4 percent, according to the state Labor Department.

The jobless rate was an improvement over the region’s 7.3 percent rate recorded in May 2013. The Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate has improved on a year-over-year basis for each of the past 16 months, a streak that began in February 2013. And the 6 percent rate was the lowest for May since 2008, before the Great Recession began driving the number up.

While private-sector hiring has slowly but steadily improved, a reduced labor force may also have contributed to the decline in the jobless rate. The size of the Buffalo Niagara’s region’s labor force – the sum of its reported employed and unemployed people – declined about 2 percent in May from a year ago, to 559,500.

Economists say the size of the available workforce has shrunk due to different factors, including retirements and unemployed people who stop looking for jobs. Discouraged workers are not considered part of the labor force and don’t count toward the unemployment rate.

At the same time, employers are scrambling to fill openings in a number of fields, said Christopher Beckage, vice president of the North Region for Superior Group staffing firm. “Across the board, we’re seeing an uptick in business.”

Hiring has increased in areas such as engineering, information technology and accounting/finance, Beckage said. “Probably the best thing I’m seeing is it’s becoming an employee’s market versus an employer’s market.”

In other words, many job seekers can choose between more than one opening, which works in their favor to secure higher wages, since employers have to compete for the best prospects.

And those prospects often look for situations that fit their interests, such as workplaces with flexible working hours, so employers must respond accordingly, Beckage said.

The rise in information technology hiring reflects a change in the health of the economy, Beckage said. When the economy hits a downturn, he said, companies tend to put IT spending on hold until things improve. Once economic activity picks up, those companies have the funds to start investing in IT again.

The Buffalo Niagara region’s May unemployment rate was slightly better than the U.S. rate of 6.1 percent. Rochester’s unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in May, and Syracuse’s was 6.1 percent.

Erie County’s jobless rate was 5.9 percent, and Niagara County’s was 6.2 percent. Tompkins County, whose county seat is Ithaca, had the lowest unemployment rate in the state, at 4.1 percent.