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Unemployment rate drops below 5 percent in February

Another month, another nearly three-decade low in the Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate.

The region’s jobless rate dropped to 4.7 percent during February – its lowest level for any February since at least 1990 – and more than a full percentage point below the 6.1 percent rate of February 2018.

The latest report on unemployment from the State Labor Department 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.

“The economy is moving along,” said Timothy Glass, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “We continue to produce jobs and fill them.”

The local unemployment rate hasn’t been this low since at least the 1980s.

Even with local job growth that is just a fraction of the national average, a shrinking labor pool caused in large part by a wave of retiring baby boomers is pushing the local jobless rate to more than 29-year lows.

While the February jobless rate of 4.7 percent is higher than the jobless levels that dipped as low as 3.7 percent last fall, that’s not a concern because the rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal factors that typically increase unemployment in winter.

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. In the last year alone, the number of unemployed people has dropped by 22 percent.

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.

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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