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Local unemployment drops to nearly 30-year low in January

The Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate just keeps dropping.

The region’s jobless rate dropped to 5 percent during January – its lowest level for any January dating back to at least 1990 – and more than a full percentage point below the 6.2 percent rate of January 2018.

The latest report on unemployment from the State Labor Department released Tuesday is another sign that the Buffalo Niagara job market is fairly robust, even if the pace of hiring is subdued.  With a labor pool that is barely growing, even a modest uptick in hiring can push down the jobless rate.

“I think you’re seeing that, as baby boomers retire, it’s getting harder and harder to find replacements,” said Timothy Glass, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo.

January jobless rate fell to more than 29-year low of 5 percent. The local unemployment rate hasn’t been this low since at least the 1980s.

All those “help wanted” signs aren’t lying. Even with local job growth that is just a fraction of the national average, a labor pool that is barely bringing in new workers fast enough to replace retiring baby boomers is pushing the local jobless rate down to more than 29-year lows.

While the January jobless rate of 5 percent is higher than the jobless levels that dipped as low as 3.6 percent last fall, that’s not a concern because the rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal factors that typically increase unemployment in winter.

At the same time, fewer people are unemployed. The number of unemployed people has nearly been cut nearly in half since 2013, which means the number of people who are actively looking for work is at a 29-year low.

Over the last six years, the number of local workers who are unemployed has been cut almost in half. That means companies are facing much stiffer competition when they try to hire, and it also means that workers with sought-after skills are in especially short supply. That trend is behind the push to step up local job training initiatives, aimed at preparing more workers for the job market while also targeting the vocations that are in particular demand.

The local job market is tight, but it’s even tighter in other places.

While unemployment is very low by local standards, the jobless rate here still is higher than it is nationally and across all of New York State. In fact, only four of New York’s 15 major metro areas – Binghamton, Elmira, Utica and Watertown – have a higher unemployment rate than the Buffalo Niagara region.

There’s even a disparity here, too. The 5.9 percent unemployment rate in Niagara County is more than a full percentage point above the 4.8 percent jobless rate in Erie County.

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