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Region’s jobless rate falls to 5.3 percent

The Buffalo Niagara region received another piece of good news on the job front Tuesday.

The unemployment rate in May dropped to 5.3 percent, down from 6 percent a year ago and the lowest May rate for the region since 2007, according to the state Labor Department.

Just last Thursday, the Labor Department reported that job growth in May was the strongest since July 1999.

“I don’t think anyone can argue the economy in Buffalo has not made a dramatic improvement,” said John Slenker, the labor department’s regional economist in Buffalo.

The last time the region’s unemployment rate increased on a year-over-year basis was October 2012. Since then, it has declined for 31 consecutive months.

Two other indicators also showed improvement in May from a year ago: the size of the region’s labor force, and the number of people employed, both of which increased.

“You have more people entering the labor force when the economy gets better,” Slenker said.

Some of those were “discouraged workers” who had stopped actively looking for a job because they didn’t think they could find one, but now are back in the job market because they are seeing more opportunities.

The ongoing drop in the jobless rate also alters the balance between employers and job seekers. Slenker said the number of available candidates per job has fallen, meaning some employers are not getting inundated for positions they are trying to fill the way they used to. Well-qualified workers might have more job options to choose among than they did a few years ago, following the recession.

Jeremy Gnozzo, founder and CEO of Search Solution Group, said the drop in the jobless rate lines up with what his firm is seeing in hiring trends.

“I think there’s a good amount of hiring in Buffalo,” said Gnozzo, whose Charlotte, N.C.-based firm has an office in Amherst. Gnozzo noted that hiring will be picking up at employers like Solar City, continuing the region’s steady growth pattern.

“It’s definitely a candidate market,” as opposed to a few years ago when it was a client market, he said.

Gnozzo said his firm is seeing particularly strong demand for jobs in engineering, accounting and a company’s supply chain, such as inventory management, to help control a company’s costs.

Slenker said some of the surge in hiring from a year ago is partly seasonal, in areas like construction that go into higher gear as the weather improves. There is also an uptick in opportunities in seasonal positions for young people, like lifeguards and golf course workers.

The statewide jobless rate in May was 5.3 percent, matching the Buffalo Niagara region’s figure for the month.