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Local job market on the upswing

The Buffalo Niagara job market ended last year with a flourish.

During December, the region added jobs at its fastest pace in four months, led by a broad-based spurt in hiring that included financial services, health care and construction, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

The uptick in hiring in December snapped a three-month period of tepid job growth that began in September and stretched throughout most of the fall.

Last month, the pace of job growth jumped to an annual rate of 0.8 percent – the region’s highest since August – with local employers adding 4,500 jobs, compared with December 2013, as hiring in the private sector offset continued job cuts by government agencies in Buffalo Niagara.

The Labor Department also said job growth was slightly stronger during November than it initially reported. The region revised its November data upward by 400 jobs, based on more comprehensive data from local employers, with the month’s job gain now pegged at 1,100 jobs, compared with a year before, for an annual growth rate of 0.2 percent.

Job growth was much more robust in December, with the region’s hiring returning to levels that are close to the growth rate that was in place during the summer. The region’s job growth from September to November averaged less than 0.2 percent annually after averaging a little more than 1 percent from June to August.

The private sector led the way, adding jobs at a 1.2 percent annual pace. The financial services sector continued its rebound from last year’s slump, growing at a 4.1 percent annual pace during December. Retailers gearing up for the holiday shopping season added jobs at a 0.9 percent annual pace. Factory employment grew at a 0.8 percent annual rate, while construction hiring was up by 2.8 percent. The leisure and hospitality sector – a strong part of the local job market in 2013 but a weak point during much of 2014 – grew by 1.6 percent in December.

On the downside, government employment dropped by 1.2 percent over the last year, led by a 2.5 percent decline at local schools and 2.2 percent fewer federal government jobs.

John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo, noted that December 2013 was an especially weak month – one of only two during the last four years with a decline in the number of jobs – partly because of the unusually cold weather.

But he also noted that the December gains were broad-based and left the region with slightly more jobs than it had in December 2007, before the onset of the Great Recession. Job growth throughout all of last year averaged just under 0.7 percent – the strongest increase in the last three years and the third-best since 2001, based on preliminary data that will be revised in early March.

“The economy has been very solid now” for more than four years, Slenker said.

Despite the stronger job growth in December, job growth is much more robust elsewhere. Across New York State, it averaged 1.2 percent, compared with a year before, almost 50 percent more than the local increase. Nationwide, job growth averaged 2.2 percent, or more than double the local gain over the last year.

Most of the job growth in New York has been centered downstate, where employment growth reached 1.9 percent. It was a much different story upstate, where employment gains also strengthened from November but remained modest, rising by 0.5 percent over the past year, lagging behind the increase in Buffalo Niagara.

Among the state’s 14 major metropolitan areas, Buffalo Niagara’s job growth was the sixth-highest statewide and the third-best upstate. Only New York City, Nassau-Suffolk counties, Ithaca and Kingston had stronger job growth during December.