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Local unemployment rate drops to 5.3% in March

A slow but steady uptick in hiring helped push the unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region down to 5.3 percent in March, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.

The drop in the jobless rate pushed unemployment levels to their lowest level for any March since 2007, and it’s likely that the declines will continue as spring gives way to summer and thousands of seasonal jobs become available across the region.

Over the past year, the unemployment rate has improved by almost a full percentage point, falling from 6.1 percent in March 2015. Jobless levels have fallen steadily over the past four years after unemployment hit its post-recession peak of 9.4 percent in February 2012.

Across the region, the number of people who were employed during March increased by 8,000 people, or 1.6 percent, over the past year – a sign that local employers have stepped up their hiring. That’s supported by another Labor Department report, released last week, that showed the region added jobs at a 0.6 percent annual pace over the past year.

As hiring has picked up, workers are having an easier time finding jobs. The number of unemployed people actively looking for a job fell by 4,200 during March – a nearly 13 percent drop that left the region’s pool of unemployed workers at its lowest level for any March since 2007.

Despite the improvement, jobless levels in the Buffalo Niagara region still are higher than they are across the state and nationally. Unemployment across all of New York fell to 5.2 percent last month, while the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 5.1 percent.

The report paints a picture of a job market that is slowly tightening.

Since the job market bottomed out four years ago, the region has trimmed its pool of unemployed workers by 21,500. Only three times during the past 26 years has there been fewer unemployed people during the month of March than there is now in the Buffalo Niagara region.

And with the outlook for finding a job brightening, workers who had stopped looking for employment have resumed their job hunt. The local labor force grew for the fifth straight month during March and how includes 3,800 more people than it did a year ago.

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