The Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate remained at a nine-year low during September, dropping to 5 percent, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.
The unemployment rate improved slightly from 5.2 percent a year ago as the region’s jobless levels have been falling steadily for the past four years, fueled by moderate job growth and a shrinking labor pool caused mainly by a stagnant population and a wave of retirements among older workers.
The September unemployment rate was higher than the 4.7 percent jobless level in August, but the two months aren’t directly comparable because the data is not adjusted for seasonal factors.
It was the first time in five months that the region’s unemployment rate topped 5 percent.
The local jobless rate peaked at 8.4 percent during August 2012 and has been falling steadily since then.
"These are still low rates," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo. "Any time the Buffalo Niagara region is below 6 percent, we're doing pretty well."
Jobless levels are at their lowest levels since 2007, but still would have to decline further to approach the modern-day lows that were set in 2000, when unemployment dipped as low as 3.8 percent in October 2000 and hovered between that and 4.3 percent for the final 10 months of 2000.
The decline in unemployment comes as the region has slowly but steadily added jobs since late 2010, including an increase of 1,700 jobs from September 2015 to September 2016 as the pace of hiring slowed.
The unemployment numbers, which are based on a different survey than the job data, can be fairly volatile and also come with a margin of error that approaches 0.5 percentage points one way or the other.
The local unemployment is slightly below the statewide rate of 5.1 percent but is a little higher than the national rate of 4.8 percent. None of the jobless rates are adjusted for seasonal factors.
Other upstate metro areas also had declines in unemployment, with the jobless rate in Rochester falling to 4.7 percent from 4.8 percent in September 2015; Syracuse declining to 4.8 percent from 5 percent a year ago; and Albany slipping to 4.2 percent from 4.3 percent a year ago.
The drop in the Buffalo Niagara jobless rate stemmed largely from a shrinking labor force and a modest drop in the number of unemployed people looking for jobs. The number of people in the region who don’t have a job but were actively looking for one fell by 4 percent, or 1,000 people, from September 2015 to September 2016, the Labor Department said. That was the lowest for any September since 2007.
At the same time, the number of people who were employed last month was essentially flat, falling by an estimated 100 people to the fourth-lowest level for any September in the last five years. That left the pool of available workers in the Buffalo Niagara region 7 percent below its pre-recession peak, mainly because of retirements among Baby Boomers, Slenker said.