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Buffalo Niagara job growth slows to a crawl in July

The Buffalo Niagara region's already sluggish job growth slowed to a crawl during July.

With fewer jobs at the region's financial services firms, factories and construction sites than there were a year ago, the Buffalo Niagara metro area added just 100 jobs from July 2016 to July 2017, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the state Labor Department.

The nearly stagnant job growth during July extended a stretch of tepid hiring that began in March and has continued for five months. But local economists also have warned that the monthly employment data from the labor department frequently is subject to substantial revisions.

In 2015, that meant that record-breaking job growth was revised downward to a slower, but still above-average pace, while last year's employment figures, initially reported as sluggish, were revised upward to a more typical growth rate.

"I think the economy is stronger than these numbers indicate," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo. "The numbers are actually quite volatile."

Despite the significant revisions in recent years, the labor department data still is closely watched because they provide one of the most timely snapshots of the local job market – perhaps the most significant indicator of the region's economic strength. Those revisions are based on more detailed unemployment insurance claims and other business records.

While the pace of hiring has slowed, the region's unemployment rate has hovered around 5 percent through June. The Labor Department will release the local jobless rate for July on Tuesday.

During July, that snapshot showed a sluggish job market where stronger hiring at local stores, bars, restaurants and warehouses was offset by the weakness in manufacturing, financial services and construction.

The numbers also seemed contradictory in some instances. The report, for instance said the region lost 1,700 jobs within the leisure and hospitality sector – a substantial 2.7 percent decline from a year ago.

Yet the report also found strength within the key segments that make up the overall sector. Hiring at local bars and restaurants, which accounts for 80 percent of all leisure and hospitality jobs, was up by 1,100 people, or 2.3 percent.

But despite the wave of new hotels that have opened across the region, adding jobs at the region's hotels and other types of positions within the leisure and hospitality sector, the number of leisure and hospitality jobs fell. That means that small subset that includes the accommodation industry accounted for a loss of 2,800 jobs during the past year.

The financial services sector is in a similar situation. The July numbers indicate that employment at finance and insurance firms was flat over the past year, but when real estate jobs are added in – at a time when the local housing market is stronger than it's been in decades – the sector ends up losing 1,300 jobs.

Part of the problem is that the jobs data is based on preliminary information from employers that is then benchmarked against Census data. That Census data used for the benchmarking is now almost a year old, making the estimates more volatile – a statistical phenomenon that happens each year, Slenker said.

Even with the sluggish job growth, the Buffalo Niagara region still finished the month with more jobs than it has had during any July dating back to at least 1990, which is as far back as the Labor Department's modern-day records go. The region now has 560,300 jobs after adding 100 new positions during the past year.

Buffalo Niagara's stagnant job growth, including government jobs, was the third-lowest among the state's 15 biggest metro areas, the Labor Department reported. Only Rochester, which lost jobs at a 0.4 percent annual pace from July 2016 to July 2017, and Elmira, which lost jobs at a 1.4 percent annualized rate, had slower job growth rates.

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