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The local job market takes a turn for the worse in January

The Buffalo Niagara job market took a turn for the worse in January, just weeks before concerns over the coronavirus outbreak started sending shock waves through the economy.

The region lost 3,000 jobs from January 2019 to January 2020, according to data released Thursday by the State Labor Department.

The January slump, combined with major revisions to last year’s numbers that showed the local job market fell into decline last July, paint a picture of a sluggish employment market during a time when the national economy was still going strong.

For all of 2019, the region added just 400 jobs – the weakest year for hiring since 2010.

Timothy Glass, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo, thinks the decline stems from the region’s stagnant population at a time when older workers are retiring, which makes it hard for companies to find replacements. And despite the job losses, unemployment remains low by local standards.

The 3,000 jobs lost over the past year – a 0.5% annualized decline – were the second-most for any month since the decline began in July, according to the revised data, which were in contrast to the preliminary numbers previously reported that showed modest hiring throughout 2019. Glass thinks job losses are partly because it’s hard for businesses to find workers.

Construction and the education and health services sector were the hot spots in an otherwise weak local job market during January. Manufacturers shed 3.2% of their jobs in January, while employment in financial activities was off by nearly 2%. Business and professional services were down by 1.3%, while leisure and hospitality employment shrunk by 2.3%.

The job losses locally during January came at a time when the state was adding jobs at a 0.9% annualized pace and the nation was growing by 1.5%. Only three New York metro areas – Orange-Rockland-Westchester counties, Utica and Elmira – had bigger job losses in January than the Buffalo Niagara region.

The rural portions of Western New York started the year with a flourish, with three of the five outlying counties adding jobs – led by Allegany County, with a nearly 3% jump in hiring, and a 1.3% uptick in jobs in Cattaraugus County. Chautauqua County was the lone weak spot, with its job count falling by 0.8%.

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