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Local unemployment rate rises to 5.5 percent in December

The slump in hiring during December pushed the Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate up to 5.5 percent, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The rise in the jobless rate pushed unemployment up to a three-year high for December, although it remains relatively low by local standards.

"A 5.5 percent rate is still a very low number," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo. "It's been up for the last couple of months, but I'm not concerned about it."

The December unemployment rate, which isn't adjusted for seasonal factors, was up from 5.1 percent a year ago. But the change isn't considered to be 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.

Pushing the jobless rate higher was a less than 1 percent drop in the number of people holding a job during December – a finding that was consistent with the drop in the number of jobs locally that was included in a separate Labor Department report last week. However, Slenker thinks the jobs number from last week is likely to be revised upward.

At the same time, the number of unemployed people – who are actively looking for a job but can't find one – rose by 6 percent, although the jobless ranks still have shrunk by 20,000 people since 2009.

Overall, the local labor force, which has been shrinking consistently over the past five years as older workers retired and the region’s population stagnated, shrunk by 2,700 people over the past year.

The report also showed that jobless levels remain much higher in the Buffalo Niagara region than they are across both the state and the nation. The unemployment rate for New York stood at 4.4 percent in December, while the national jobless rate was 3.9 percent.

Among the state's 15 major metropolitan areas, the 5.5 percent jobless rate in the Buffalo Niagara region was tied with Binghamton and Elmira for the third-highest. Only Watertown, which had a 7.2 percent unemployment rate in December, and Glens Falls, at 5.7 percent, had a higher jobless rate.

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