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Local jobless rate holds at 5.1 percent in December

The Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate held steady at 5.1 percent during December, fueled by a shrinking labor force and a slight drop in the number of people who couldn't find jobs, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The local jobless rate was tied for the lowest jobless rate for any December since it stood at 4.5 percent in December 2006.

The region's unemployment rate has stabilized since the beginning of fall. While the Buffalo Niagara region has been slowly, but steadily adding jobs over the past 6 1/2 years, reducing the ranks of the unemployed to a 10-year low, the pool of available workers also has been shrinking as discouraged workers stop looking for employment and older workers retire.

The region's labor force, which had been slowly expanding for most of the past two years, began to level off during the summer. It actually shrunk during each of the past four months, with the pace of the contraction accelerating in November and December.

"I think what we're seeing is the effects of the retirements" by Baby Boomers, said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.

"I don't think it's a case of everybody sitting on the sidelines," Slenker said. "We've been adding jobs for a long time."

 The region’s jobless rate has fallen 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 local labor force is nearly 9 percent smaller than it was a year ago, while the number of unemployed people dipped by less than 1 percent.

The jobless rate is at its lowest level 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. It hovered between 3.8 and 4.3 percent for the final 10 months of 2000.

Jobless levels are higher in the Buffalo Niagara region than they are across much of the state and the nation, where unemployment in both New York State and the country stood at 4.5 percent in December. None of the jobless rates are adjusted for seasonal factors.

Other upstate metro areas also had little to no changes in unemployment, with the jobless rate holding steady at 4.7 percent in Rochester and 4.9 percent in Syracuse. It dipped to 4 percent from 4.1 percent a year ago in Albany.

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