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Local jobless rate drops to 5.5 percent in April

The steady decline in unemployment continued into April, as the pace of hiring picked up.

The unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region dropped to 5.5 percent during April – its lowest level for the month since 2008 – as local employers have been adding jobs this year almost twice as fast as they did in 2014, the state Labor Department said Wednesday.

The drop in the unemployment rate, which stood at 6 percent in April 2014, continues a trend toward lower jobless levels that has been in place for more than two years, gradually whittling down a jobless rate that topped 9 percent as recently as January 2013.

With local job growth running at an average pace of 1.4 percent through the first four months of the year, unemployed workers are finding more opportunities to find employment, economists said.

The number of people who were employed in the Buffalo Niagara region during April grew by 1 percent over the past year to finish the month at the highest level for any April since 2010.

With the pace of hiring so far this year running at roughly double the 2014 pace, the number of people who were actively looking for work but couldn’t find it dropped by 5 percent to its lowest April level in eight years.

“Over the last four years, we’ve been adding jobs in almost every sector, except government,” said John Slenker, the labor department’s regional economist in Buffalo.

“As we keep gaining jobs, it becomes easier to find a job,” Slenker said. “Everything works in your favor.”

The local unemployment rate now has been below 6 percent for six of the past eight months – the first time that has happened since 2008, according to state Labor Department data.

One reason for the decline in jobless levels is the improved pace of hiring. The number of private-sector jobs hit an all-time high for April, rising by 1.8 percent over the last year.

The number of construction jobs locally jumped by 11 percent last month to its highest level for any April since at least 1990 as work continued on a handful of big projects, from the HarborCenter and RiverBend to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and seasonal roadwork got underway after a harsh winter.

“We’ve had a good start to the year, and I think it’s going to continue to build as we add all these construction jobs,” said Gary Keith, the regional economist at M&T Bank.

With the pace of job growth picking up, the local labor force started to grow again during April, after shrinking for most of 2015. As hiring accelerates, discouraged workers, who aren’t counted in the unemployment statistics, are returning to the labor pool.

Many of those workers, who had stopped looking for a job because they didn’t think they could find one, resume their searches when they feel the prospects for being hired have brightened. It was the first time the local labor force has grown in 27 months.

Jobless levels in Buffalo Niagara were the ninth-highest among the state’s 14 major metropolitan areas. Areas with higher unemployment rates included Binghamton, Elmira, Utica, Watertown and New York City.

The local unemployment rate matched the jobless rate statewide, but was higher than the 5.1 percent rate nationally.