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Local unemployment rate rises to 4.8 percent in May

Something happened to the Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate that hadn’t occurred during any May since 2012.

The jobless rate went up.

With the pace of job growth slowing this spring, the local unemployment rate rose to 4.8 percent during May, up from 4.5 percent in May 2016, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday. It was the first time that the May jobless rate increased since 2012, when unemployment was at its post-recession peak of 8.4 percent.

Despite a shrinking labor force, due mainly to retirements stemming from the region’s aging pool of workers, the jobless rate went up during May as more workers who wanted a job said they were unable to find one.

Even so, the May unemployment rate remains unusually low by local standards, remaining below 5 percent during May for just the second time in the last 10 years. The jobless rate stood at 4.5 percent in May 2016 – its lowest since 2007.

Despite the uptick in unemployment during May, the local job market remains tight and is close to a level that economists consider to be full employment, said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo.

With the Baby Boomer retirements not being offset by an influx of new workers associated with a rising population, Slenker said the demand for qualified workers remains high. However, finding a job still may remain difficult for workers with inadequate skills for today’s job or who lack the transportation they need to get to available job opportunities.

Even so, the pace of hiring has slowed since spring. After averaging about 1.4 percent during January and February, the pace of job growth has slowed to about a third of the pace over the last three months, according to Labor Department data.

Joblessness is higher in the Buffalo Niagara region than it is both statewide and across the country. The unemployment rate in New York was 4.3 percent during May, while unemployment was 4.1 percent nationwide.

Among the state’s 15 major metropolitan areas, only Watertown, Elmira and Binghamton had an unemployment rate that was higher than the Buffalo Niagara region during May.

Nearly 7 percent more workers – an increase of 1,600 – were counted as being unemployed during May than there were in May 2016. A worker is considered to be unemployed if they are actively looking for work but can’t find a job.

At the same time, the number of people who had jobs dropped by 1 percent. The 517,000 who were employed during May was the fewest for any May since at least 1990, which is as far back as the Labor Department’s data goes.

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