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Local hiring slump stretches into August, new job data shows

The summer slump in the Buffalo Niagara region's job market stretched into August.

The region added jobs in August at just a 0.2 percent annualized pace last month – less than a quarter of last year's growth rate – as new data from the state labor Department showed that a stretch of tepid hiring that began in March now has moved into its sixth month.

Local economists, however, 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.

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.

For the second straight month, the Labor Department data appeared to undercount the number of jobs in two of the hottest segments of the Buffalo Niagara economy: real estate and hotels.

The report, for instance said the region gained just 200 jobs within the leisure and hospitality sector – a 0.3 percent increase from a year ago.

Yet the report also found strength within the key segments that make up the overall hospitality sector. Hiring at local bars and restaurants, which accounts for 80 percent of all leisure and hospitality jobs, was up by 3,500 people, or 7.3 percent.

But when hotel jobs are added to the mix – at a time when a wave of new hotels have opened across the region, adding jobs at the region's hotels and other types of positions within the leisure and hospitality sector – the job growth within the entire leisure and hospitality sector was almost completely wiped out. That means that small subset that includes the expanding accommodation industry accounted for a loss of 3,300 jobs during the past year.

The financial services sector is in a similar situation. The August numbers indicate that employment at finance and insurance firms was down by 1.1 percent 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 job losses within the financial activities sector swell by 1,200 positions.

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 about a year old, making the estimates more volatile – a statistical phenomenon that happens each year.

Even with the sluggish job growth, the Buffalo Niagara region still finished the month with more jobs than it has had during any August since at least 1990, which is as far back as the Labor Department's modern-day records go. The region now has 561,400 jobs after adding 1,100 new positions during the past year.

Buffalo Niagara's sluggish job growth, including government jobs, was tied with Ithaca as the third-lowest among the state's 15 biggest metro areas, the Labor Department reported. Only Rochester, which lost jobs at a 0.3 percent annual pace from August 2016 to August 2017, and Elmira, where the job market was stagnant,  had slower job growth rates.

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