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Buffalo Niagara jobless rate drops to 4.5 percent in June

It’s been 17 years since the Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate was as low as June’s 4.5 percent.

Even though more workers started looking for jobs during June, most were able to find employment as companies scrambled to find workers at a time when the economy is strong and businesses are looking to hire.

And hire they are, cutting further into a pool of available workers that has been steadily shrinking for almost 20 years as baby boomers retire. That pushed unemployment sharply lower for the second straight month, according to data released Tuesday by the state Labor Department.

The drop in the unemployment rate also mirrors the healthy labor trends in a separate report last week from the Labor Department showing that the region added jobs at a 1.4 percent annualized pace during June. The two sets of job data, however, are compiled from different surveys.

The report found that the June jobless rate fell to a 17-year low of 4.5 percent as hiring continued to strengthen.

There are plenty of “help wanted” signs on display at local businesses. Combine that with fewer workers looking for jobs, and it’s a prescription for a lower unemployment rate.

“We’ve put almost everyone back to work,” said John Slenker, the state Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “Manufacturing is no longer bleeding jobs, and the rest of the economy is very strong.”

With businesses still looking to hire, the pool of available workers is getting stretched thin. So as 5,000 new people found jobs in June, the number of workers who were actively looking for a job but couldn’t find one shrunk to an 18-year low.

With the job market so tight, Slenker thinks the shortage of qualified workers could be putting a damper on the region’s economic growth.

“There’s nothing wrong with the economy,” he said. “The drag on the economy is the lack of workers.”

Unemployment across the Buffalo Niagara region is lower than it’s been during any June since 2001, but it still is higher than most of New York and the rest of the country.

The region’s jobless rate is higher than the 4.2 percent rates statewide and nationally. Among the state’s 15 biggest metro areas, the Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate is tied for the 11th highest, better only than Binghamton, Elmira and Watertown.

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