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Local jobless rate rises to 5.9 percent in February

The Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate rose to 5.9 percent in February as a wave of retirements among the Baby Boomers left fewer local workers holding jobs, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

Even with the modest increase in joblessness, the local unemployment rate remained below 6 percent during February for just the third time in the last 15 years.

"These are still very low rates for us," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.

As a wave of Baby Boomers retired and dropped out of the work force, fewer local workers were employed, while there also was a slight uptick in the number of workers who were actively looking for a job but couldn't find one.

February typically has some of the highest unemployment rates of the year, as seasonal holiday-related jobs have ended, while springtime hiring has yet to begin. The local unemployment rate is not adjusted for seasonal factors.

The region’s unemployment rate has returned to levels last seen in the months leading up to the last recession, which began to hit the local labor market in 2008. Unemployment peaked at 9.3 percent in January 2013 and has been steadily declining since then as the pace of hiring has slowly accelerated. The Buffalo Niagara region added jobs at a 1 percent annual pace last year – the fastest pace since 1999 – according to revised data released last month by the Labor Department.

The decline in unemployment also has been helped by a shrinking labor pool, caused mainly by a stagnant population and a wave of retirements among older workers.

The local labor force in February was more than 1 percent smaller than it was a year ago, while the number of unemployed people rose by 1,400 people, or nearly 5 percent. The number of people employed also shrunk by almost 2 percent.

"It's not people dropping out and saying 'I'm discouraged,'" Slenker said. "The Baby Boomers are getting to retirement age. That's what's driving it."

While the jobless rate is at its second-lowest level since 2007, it 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.

Jobless levels are higher in the Buffalo Niagara region than they are across much of the state and the nation, where unemployment in New York State was 5.1 percent in February and 4.9 percent across the United States. None of the jobless rates are adjusted for seasonal factors.

Most other upstate metro areas had higher unemployment rates than they did a year ago, with jobless levels rising to 5.4 percent from 5.1 percent a year ago in Rochester; Syracuse increasing to 5.7 percent from 5.5 percent a year earlier; and Albany inching up to 4.6 percent from 4.5 percent a year earlier.

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