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It's hard to hire: Local unemployment remains at 18-year low

It’s been 18 years since workers were in such short supply.

With the number of workers in the Buffalo Niagara region holding jobs at an eight-year high and the ranks of the unemployed at its lowest level since the 1980s, the Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate fell to an 18-year low of 4.3 percent during August.

That makes for a tight job market, with companies scrambling to find workers at a time when the economy is strong and businesses are looking to hire.

The labor shortage is real,” said John Slenker, the state Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “The economy right now is just humming. This is the best labor market I have seen.”

The August jobless rate fell to an 18-year low of 4.3 percent as hiring continued to strengthen. In fact, all of those “help wanted” signs are a testament to how tight the Buffalo Niagara job market has become.

Local companies are adding jobs at a 1.6 percent annualized pace – the strongest growth in a decade – according to a separate set of employment data from the Labor Department released last week.

That’s pushed the number of people holding jobs to an eight-year high, while trimming the pool of unemployed people by 19 percent over the past year.

“We’re running out of people to fill the jobs,” Slenker said.

With businesses hiring, the pool of available workers is getting stretched thin. While 6,500 new people found jobs in August, the number of workers who were actively looking for a job but couldn’t find one shrunk to its lowest level in nearly three decades.

And with the region’s overall population stagnating, there isn’t an influx of new workers to fill all of the job openings at local businesses and to offset the wave of retirements among baby boomers. That’s caused the local labor pool to shrink by more than 6 percent over the past decade.

Unemployment across the Buffalo Niagara region is lower than it’s been during any August since 2000, but it still is higher than it is across most of New York and the rest of the country.

The region’s jobless rate is higher than the 4.1 percent rates statewide and the 3.9 percent unemployment rate nationally.

Among the state’s 15 biggest metro areas, the Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate is tied with New York City for the 11th highest, better only than Binghamton, Elmira and Watertown.

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