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Local jobless rate rises to 5.3 percent in July

The unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region keeps creeping higher.

The local jobless rate rose to 5.3 percent in July, up from 5 percent a year ago, as fewer local workers held jobs and more said they couldn't find employment, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.

The local jobless rate has increased for four straight months as the pace of job growth across the Buffalo Niagara region also has slowed since the beginning of spring.

While the unemployment rate has been rising, the size of the increase 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.

"It's not a statistically significant change," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo, who believes that the local economy is performing better than its rising unemployment rate and sharply slowing job growth since spring would indicate. He expects revised data, based on more comprehensive filings from employers, will show that job growth has been faster than the initial reports indicated.

Despite the month-to-month variations, local economists believe the region's job market is tightening, with skilled workers are in high demand, while unskilled workers are struggling to find jobs.

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

"In 2012, we were at 8.9 percent unemployment," Slenker said. "People would have killed for an unemployment rate in the low 5s."

While the local unemployment rate has been shrinking as baby boomers retire, the pace of hiring also has been slowing. After averaging about 1.4 percent during January and February, the pace of job growth has slowed to less than a third of the pace over the last five 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 stood at 4.6 percent nationally during July and was 4.9 percent across New York.

Among the state’s 15 major metropolitan areas, only Watertown and Elmira had higher unemployment rates during July.

The number of unemployed workers – who were actively seeking a job but couldn't find one — increased by 5 percent, or 1,400 people, from July 2016 to July 2017.

At the same time, the number of people who had jobs dropped by less than 1 percent. The 522,000 workers who were employed during July was the fewest for any July since at least 1990, which is as far back as the department’s data goes.

Slenker said the labor participation rate across the region, which measures the percentage of working age adults that are either employed or looking for work, has been fairly stable at around 64 percent since 1990. That's slightly higher than the national labor participation rate, which stood at 62.9 percent in July.

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