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Local unemployment rate rises to 5.1% in June

The unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region is on the rise again.

The local jobless rate rose to 5.1 percent in June, up from 4.7 percent a year ago, as fewer local workers held jobs and more said they couldn't find employment, said the state labor department Tuesday.

The local jobless rate currently has increased for two straight months as the pace of job growth locally also has slowed since the beginning of spring.

John Slenker, the department's regional economist, said the uptick in unemployment is not a cause for alarm. He believes the increase partly reflects a tightening labor market where skilled workers are in high demand, while unskilled workers are struggling to find jobs.

He also said the size of the increase in the unemployment rate is not statistically significant, since the jobless rate has a relatively wide margin of error of at least a half a percentage point. So any change in the unemployment rate within that range could be explained by a statistical inaccuracy.

"We're kind of butting up against a labor shortage for skilled labor," Slenker said. "We don't have an excess supply of labor anymore. That's been causing a drag on our growth."

The local unemployment rate, despite the June increase, is the second-lowest for any June since 2007 and the fourth-lowest in the last 15 years.

"Anytime we're around 5 percent, we're good," Slenker said.

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. But workers with inadequate skills for today’s jobs or who lack the transportation they need to get to available job opportunities still may struggle to find work.

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 four months, according to department data.

Joblessness is higher in the Buffalo Niagara region than it is both statewide and across the country. The unemployment rate stood at 4.5 percent during June both statewide and across the country.

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 June.

The number of unemployed workers who were actively seeking a job but couldn't find one increased by 8 percent, or 2,100 people, from June 2016 to June 2017.

At the same time, the number of people who had jobs dropped by less than 1 percent. The 521,900 workers who were employed during June was the fewest for any June since at least 1990, which is as far back as the department’s data goes.

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