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Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate inches up to 6.4 percent in February

The Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate inched up to 6.4 percent in February as seasonal jobs disappeared slightly faster than people dropped out of the labor force, the state Labor Department said Tuesday.

The main reason for the higher unemployment rate, which was up from 6.2 percent a year ago, is that about 3 percent more people across the Buffalo Niagara region were actively looking for a job during February but couldn't find one.

That outpaced a less than 1 percent drop in the size of the local labor pool as holiday retail jobs ended and the typical springtime burst of hiring in construction and other outdoor occupations still hadn't taken place.

"I'm not real concerned about it, just because the nature of this data series is a bit more volatile," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.

Because the monthly unemployment rate has a margin of error of more than half of a percentage point, the change in February's jobless rate is not considered to be statistically significant.

Slenker noted that unemployment across the Buffalo Niagara region tends to be highest in January and February because holiday-related seasonal jobs end, business tends to slump at bars and restaurants after the end-of-the-year rush and construction work tends to be at its low point for the year.

"6.2 percent or 6.4 percent isn't bad," Slenker said, noting that the February unemployment rate has dropped below 6.4 percent only six times in the last 17 years. "Spring will get here some day, and construction will pick up. Then unemployment rates will trend down from here until Christmas."

The local unemployment rate is not adjusted for seasonal factors. It also is based on a statewide survey of only about 3,100 households, so it can differ at times from the jobs data the Labor Department reported last week, which pegged job growth locally at more than 1 percent. The jobs data is based on a payroll survey of more than 18,000 employers across the state.

The February data also showed that a sharp disparity remains in jobless levels between Erie and Niagara counties – the two geographic areas that make up the Buffalo Niagara metropolitan area. While unemployment stood at 6.1 percent in Erie County during February, jobless levels were much higher in Niagara County at 7.7 percent.

The jobless rate in the Buffalo Niagara region was the 10th highest among the state's 15 major metro areas during January. Only Utica, Binghamton, Elmira, Glens Falls and Watertown had a higher unemployment rate in February.

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