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Local jobless rate drops to an 8-year low of 5.3% in June

With hiring heating up, the unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region is approaching 5 percent.

The region’s jobless rate for June was 5.3 percent, the same as in May and the lowest level for any June since 2007. Local employers have been adding jobs this year more than twice as fast as they did in 2014, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.

The dropping unemployment rate, which stood at 6 percent in June 2014, continues a trend 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 1.7 percent through the first half of this year, unemployed workers are finding more opportunities to find jobs, economists said.

“We’ve just had a lot of positive news, very consistently,” said John Slenker, the labor department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “I really think people are more positive about the labor market and their prospects for gaining employment.”

The number of people who were employed in the Buffalo Niagara region during June grew by 1.6 percent over the past year – the highest level for any June since 2009. About 8,600 more people were employed in the Buffalo Niagara region last month than in June 2014.

With the pace of hiring so far this year running at more than double the 2014 pace, the number of people who were actively looking for work but couldn’t find it tumbled by 11 percent to its lowest level for any June since 2007, just before the recession began battering the local job market.

The local unemployment rate now has been below 6 percent for four straight months – the first time that’s happened since mid-2008 – and during eight of the last 10 months, according to state Labor Department data.

“The signs are very positive,” Slenker said.

The number of private-sector jobs hit an all-time high for June, rising by 2.8 percent over the last year – an increase that added 12,800 additional private-sector jobs to the local job market over the past year.

While tight budgets have cost the region government jobs over the past year, the pick-up in private sector hiring has been broad-based, with every major employment category gaining jobs, said Gary Keith, M&T Bank’s regional economist.

With the pace of job growth picking up, the local labor force has started to grow again, 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, which grew by 5,000 people during the past year, an increase of less than 1 percent.

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. The local labor force has now grown for three straight months after breaking a 27-month stretch of consecutive declines in April.

Despite the improvement, the unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region was tied with Utica for the ninth-highest among the state’s 15 major metropolitan areas. Areas with higher rates included Binghamton, Elmira, Syracuse, Watertown and New York City.

The local unemployment rate matched the jobless rate statewide and was slightly lower than the 5.5 percent jobless rate nationally.

The labor department last week said the annual pace of job growth during June accelerated to 2.3 percent, the fastest increase during any single month since July 1999, with the region adding an estimated 12,700 jobs during the past 12 months.