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Jobless rate in Buffalo Niagara region remains low

Unemployment is staying low in the Buffalo Niagara region as hiring remains robust.

In November, for the second straight month, the region’s unemployment rate was below 5 percent. With a jobless rate of 4.9 percent last month, unemployment levels were at their lowest for any November since 2007, before the Great Recession began, and the second-lowest for any month since the beginning of 2008.

Over the last year, the unemployment rate has dropped from 5.6 percent in November 2014 and has declined steadily for more than 3½ years since joblessness peaked at 9.4 percent in February 2012, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The local unemployment rate first fell below 6 percent in September 2014 and dipped as low as 5.4 percent in October 2014 before rising during the winter as seasonal jobs disappeared. The jobless rate fell below 6 percent again in March and steadily inched lower throughout the spring and summer. The unemployment rate in November was slightly higher than October’s 4.8 percent rate, but it is normal for joblessness to rise as winter approaches and warm weather seasonal jobs come to an end.

“We’re in a pretty good economy right now,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “The overall picture here has been one of a nice, steady recovery.”

The local jobless rate, which isn’t adjusted for seasonal factors, was slightly higher than the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.8 percent and also lagged behind the statewide rate of 4.7 percent.

The drop in unemployment locally stems mainly from a solid pickup in the pace of hiring, especially among private sector firms in Buffalo Niagara. Over the last 12 months, the region has added 6,900 jobs, pushing the total number in Erie and Niagara counties to its highest level in more than 25 years. Job growth through the first 11 months of this year has averaged 1.7 percent, which is double the pace of hiring in 2014.

Almost half of the job growth in the last year has come from the red-hot construction market, which had 15 percent more jobs than it did a year ago, pushing that sector’s employment to its highest level in more than 25 years.

Hiring also was robust in education and health services, as well as at local restaurants and hotels.

While the recession ended more than six years ago, it wasn’t until last year that the region had regained all of the jobs that were lost in the downturn. The job market typically is one of the last parts of the economy to recover from a recession, as employers put off hiring until they are convinced that the recovery has taken root.

The number of people who were employed in Buffalo Niagara in November grew by more than 2 percent in the last year – the highest level for any November since 2009. About 12,000 more people were employed in Buffalo Niagara last month than in November 2014.

With the pace of hiring 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 in the last year to its lowest level for any November since 2007, just before the recession began battering the local job market.

“It looks like we’ve had a bit of an uptick in the number of people looking for work,” Slenker said.

Among New York’s 15 metropolitan areas listed by the state, the unemployment rate in Buffalo Niagara was tied with Utica-Rome for ninth. The unemployment rates were higher in New York City, Watertown-Fort Drum, Elmira, Glens Falls and Binghamton.