Share this article

print logo

Reports offer a mixed, but hopeful view on local unemployment

The news on jobs numbers in the region is a mixed bag.

Well-earned caution prevents us from being completely overwhelmed, just as reinvigoration in some sectors prevents us from being overly skeptical.

At issue are two jobs reports delivered a week apart, one showing the job market in the Buffalo Niagara region growing at its strongest pace in more than two years during June, mainly because of hiring at local stores, hotels and other seasonal venues.

Both reports were put out by the state Labor Department.

As News business reporter and columnist David Robinson pointed out, the unemployment rate decline – 1.5 percentage points over the past year – can mostly be attributed to an aging work force and a regional job market that has been growing slowly but steadily. In the last year alone, the region added 6,300 jobs.

The rest of the jobless rate drop can be attributed to a number of people who just give up the hunt. From that viewpoint, the glass is certainly half empty.

Analyzing the reasons why gets complicated, but the end result is a slow and steady shifting that perhaps moves aside older workers – aging baby boomers, in particular – to be replaced by younger workers. It’s reminiscent of pre-Great Recession days when people retired and new blood stepped in. Doing so is good for younger workers who become better able to buy homes and start families, hence benefitting the economy and benefitting the workplace that needs new ideas and energy. Moreover, it’s good for those aging workers. That is, for those who have the means to sustain themselves and their families.

The different viewpoints are best described in Robinson’s Sunday column in which Jay K. Walker, a Niagara University economist, talked about individuals dropping out of the labor force after becoming discouraged, as opposed to workers aging out of the labor force.

The trend taking place in this region was replicated elsewhere upstate, including Albany, Syracuse and Rochester, where unemployment fell equally sharply as in Buffalo, and where the number of people employed also declined. A similar trend is occurring nationally with a declining labor participation rate, dropping to 62.8 percent, its lowest level since 1978 and down from 66.4 percent at the beginning of 2007. Again, the explanation from a White House report points to an aging work force with the rest up to conjecture.

The news should be taken for what it’s worth – a mixed bag to be consumed with typical Western New York cautious optimism.