The Buffalo Niagara job market finished last year with a flourish.
The region added jobs at a 1.3 percent annual pace during December – just slightly below the national growth rate – as a surge at local hotels and restaurants, combined with solid gains in holiday hiring at stores, offset continued job cuts at local factories, the state Labor Department said Thursday.
While the job gain during December was the region's strongest since March 2012, local economists warned against reading too much into the size of the increase since the improvement is being measured against unusually weak employment numbers from December 2015 that they expect to be revised upward in the coming weeks.
Local economists immediately questioned the December 2015 employment number when it was first reported a year ago. That report said the region lost jobs during December 2015 – a conclusion that the economists said did not match their own observations on the local job market.
The expected revisions are likely to increase the number of reported jobs that the region had at the end of 2015. If that happens, it likely will reduce the size of the percentage increase from December 2015 to December 2016.
Even so, local economists said the December job numbers showed a solid performance by the local employment market, even if the increase from the end of 2015 ultimately may be smaller than the 1.3 percent gain reported Thursday.
"We're ending the year on a really nice note," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.
The region added 7,100 jobs from December 2015 to December 2016, leaving the area with more jobs than it has had during any December since at least 1990. The December increase continued a year-long stretch of modest hiring that has been fairly average by local standards, but far slower than the pace of job growth across the country.
Excluding government jobs, Buffalo's private-sector job growth averaged 1.5 percent over the past year.
For the year, the region's job growth averaged 0.7 percent, which was slightly better than the increase of 0.5 percent in 2015 but on par with the 2014 gain. The 2015 and 2016 job numbers will be revised in early March.
The December job data is based on a more timely but often more volatile review of unemployment claims data. A separate set of job statistics, based on a broader set of Census data, has shown that the region's job growth was stronger than the Labor Department numbers indicated late last year and through the first half of this year, but those figures have not been updated beyond June.Those figures, however, peg local job growth at about 1.1 percent through the first half of this year, which is roughly twice as strong as the Labor Department data showed for that same time.
With the exception of a spike in hiring in Ithaca, where job growth nearly reached 3 percent during December, most of the state's hiring last month was centered downstate. New York City, Long Island and the Orange-Rockland-Westchester county region all added jobs at an annualized pace between 1.1 percent and 1.5 percent.
Buffalo's job growth ranked 4th among the state's 15 biggest metro areas, the Labor Department reported. Only Ithaca, Glens Falls and New York City grew faster over the past 12 months.