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Buffalo Niagara job market starts 2019 with a small gain

The Buffalo Niagara job market was pretty cool in January.

New — and revised — data from the State Labor Department released Thursday showed that the Buffalo Niagara region added jobs for the first time in three months during January, growing at a 0.4 percent annualized pace.

That growth was an improvement over the small job losses that the region suffered during November and December, according to the revised data, which sharply reduced the overall pace of employment growth last year from the robust pace that previously had been reported.

The monthly job numbers are based on more timely, but increasingly volatile, data collected from a monthly survey of 18,000 business statewide. Economists had warned that the previous job reports were likely overstating the strength of hiring locally.

That skepticism turned out to be true.

The region added 2,000 jobs from January 2018 to January 2019 — a 0.4 percent annualized growth rate — as hiring jumped at local construction companies and in education and health services. Those gains offset job losses in wholesale trade, the federal government and at temporary help agencies.

The 0.4 percent job growth in January reversed a two-month decline in hiring during November and December, according to the revised data, even as “help wanted” signs remain a common sight outside local businesses.

“I see steady growth,” said Timothy Glass, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “We’re still chugging along.”

Hiring by private-sector businesses — which excludes government jobs — was slightly stronger than the Buffalo Niagara region’s overall job growth rate. Private-sector hiring grew by an annualized rate of slightly more than 0.4 percent in January. It was the biggest gain in private-sector hiring in four months and reversed the small declines from November and December.

The bright spot in the Buffalo Niagara job market during January was the burst of hiring at local construction firms, which added jobs at a nearly 4 percent annualized pace. Manufacturers did well, too, with a 1 percent annualized growth rate, while education and health services grew by 1.3 percent.

But those gains were hurt by job losses in other parts of the economy. Hiring at at local bars, restaurants and hotels fell by 1.2 percent, while employment at local wholesalers dropped by more than 3 percent and a category that includes temporary help jobs dropped by more than 4 percent.

Job growth across the Buffalo Niagara region during January was just a third of the statewide average and was less than a quarter of the pace of hiring nationally, continuing a long trend of sub-par job growth during times of economic expansion. Hiring locally was the third-slowest among the state’s 15 major metro areas, topping only Ithaca and Elmira.

The jobs report also highlighted the economic disparity between upstate and downstate New York. More than 90 percent of the 109,000 jobs that were added statewide during January came from either New York City or Long Island.

The report "is another sad reminder of the stark differences between the upstate and downstate economies," said Michael Kracker, the executive director of the Unshackle Upstate business lobbying group.

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