This is still the tightest job market the Buffalo Niagara region has known in decades – and it’s getting even tighter.
Officially, the local unemployment rate of 3.6 percent in October is the lowest in at least 28 years, according to data released Tuesday by the state Labor Department.
But unofficially, it hasn’t been this low for many years more because the way the unemployment rate is calculated changed in 1990 and jobless levels before then aren’t directly comparable.
Even so, it’s safe to say that they weren’t this low for many years before 1990 – a time when the region still was grappling with the aftermath of the steel plant shutdowns and an overall decline in manufacturing that stabilized only recently.
What it means is that workers are in short supply, with the number of unemployed people also at the lowest level in at least 28 years at a time when “help wanted” signs are a common sight.
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 1.4 percent annualized pace this year – the strongest growth since 1998 – according to a separate set of employment data from the Labor Department released last week.
That’s quickly thinning the pool of people who are either working or actively looking for a job. The local labor force is growing by just 1.6 percent at a time when the number of people holding jobs is at a 10-year high and the pool of unemployed workers has shrunk by 25 percent over the past year.
Fewer people are struggling to find a job, too.
With businesses hiring, the pool of available workers is getting stretched thin. While more than 15,000 new people found jobs in October, 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 October since at least 1990, but it still is slightly higher than it is across the rest of the country and in line with the statewide average.
The region’s jobless rate is higher than the 3.5 percent rate nationally but matches the 3.6 percent unemployment rate statewide. The rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal factors.
Among the state’s 15 biggest metro areas, the Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate is tied with Utica for the 10th highest, better only than Binghamton, Elmira, New York City and Watertown.