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Buffalo Niagara region’s jobless rate falls to 5.9 percent in March

The Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent in March, down from 7 percent a year ago, according to the state Department of Labor.

It was the region’s lowest jobless rate for March since 2007, when it was 4.7 percent.

“For Buffalo Niagara, below 6 percent is a good number, especially for this early in the year,” said John Slenker, regional economist with the Labor Department.

The Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate has been falling, returning to levels that were typical just before the effects of the financial crisis took hold in 2009. The last time the region’s rate was higher than the year before was in October 2012, a streak of two and a half years, according to Labor Department data.

Slenker said the continued drop in the unemployment rate is another sign of economic recovery underway. “The unemployment rate is the last indicator to improve,” he said. “It’s one of the first ones to go up, and it’s the last to improve.”

While the jobless rate has been falling, so has the size of the region’s labor force. It declined 1.3 percent in March, to 545,600. That was the labor force’s smallest size for March in data going back 25 years. The size of the labor force has fallen 6.2 percent since 1990.

“This is a problem we’ve been looking at for a quite a while, and there isn’t a lot of consensus on it,” Slenker said. But he believes the trend is influenced by demographics, as older workers retire and leave the workforce, thus reducing its size.

The Buffalo Niagara region’s jobless rate was similar to those of nearby regions and the statewide average.

Rochester’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, while Syracuse’s was 5.7 percent. New York State’s unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, down from 7.1 percent a year ago.

Erie County’s jobless rate was 5.6 percent in March, while Niagara County’s was 6.9 percent.