The Buffalo Niagara region's private-sector job count plunged 23% in April from a year ago, as the devastation caused by Covid-19 struck the local economy with full force.
The state Department of Labor said the region lost 110,500 private sector jobs from a year ago. Buffalo Niagara's job-loss percentage ranked third worst among 15 metro areas in the state, behind Orange-Rockland-Westchester and Nassau-Suffolk.
Buffalo Niagara's leisure and hospitality sector was hit especially hard in April, losing 60.7% of its jobs from a year ago. That amounted to a decline of 36,000 jobs. The region's manufacturing jobs declined nearly 16% from a year ago, or 8,200 jobs.
Not all sectors were devastated. Finance and insurance, which have not endured the kind of furloughs and layoffs locally that other industries have suffered, reported only a 2.4% drop from a year ago.
The picture was bleak statewide, too. Private sector jobs declined by 22% from last year, a loss of 1.83 million jobs. Eight metro areas in the state lost at least 20% of their private sector jobs.
The economic pain caused by Covid-19 shutdowns and layoffs has been well documented, but the Labor Department's data frames the impact in stark numbers. The April figures reflect the first full month of the effect, with New York state's "pause" directives starting in mid to late March.
The Buffalo Niagara region's overall private sector job count fell to 364,100, the lowest figure for any month in the Labor Department's online database going back to the start of 1990.
Julie Anna Golebiewski, assistant professor of economics at Canisius College, said the dismal results were in line with her expectations, based on initial unemployment filings she has seen over the past several weeks.
Health care and social assistance was another local sector that was hit hard, with a 15.2% loss of jobs from a year ago. Golebiewski said she expects to see that sector begin to come back as the economy reopens, the number of people hospitalized due to Covid-19 declines and as patients return to elective medical procedures.
"We think with that re-emergence, we will see those jobs come back online," she said.
Similarly, Golebiewski expects some improvement in manufacturing's numbers, now that the sector has been given the green light to reopen.
The outlook for the region's accommodation and food category, which was down 62%, "is the one we're most uncertain about," she said. Social distancing guidelines will force many restaurants to limit their seating capacity, requiring less personnel as a result, Golebiewski said.
"It will also mean that for those owners, the revenue potential will shrink," she added.
"That's going to be an area that we don't necessarily expect there to be a full recovery anytime soon," she said of the sector.
The hotel industry continues to suffer, as the unofficial start of the summer tourism season begins this weekend. People unsure of their jobs might resist spending money on travel, or might feel nervous about going out of town.
"If they don't feel comfortable going into a hotel or making those long-distance trips, they're not going to do that," Golebiewski said. "And that's definitely going to impact that industry."
The region's finance and insurance industry has ended up being a "bright spot" amid everything else, Golebiewski said. Many of those jobs can be done from home and require a lot of employees to work with customers coping with financial crises.
Banks were also scrambling to handle a wave of applications by small businesses to the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program.
Over the past 10 years, about 15% of the region's job growth was concentrated in financial industries, Golebiewski said.
"Not only did they weather the storm, but they are potentially still growing," she said.
Another local sector that remains a question mark: retail. Golebiewski thinks the job losses in retail were buffered by an upswing in hiring – to handle a surge in demand – at places such as grocery stores.
But as the need for those additional jobs wanes, and as other types of stores start to reopen, it's not clear what the overall retail picture will look like, she said.
The state's regional unemployment figures are due to be released next week. The local figure is likely above 25%, based on the onslaught of shutdowns and business disruptions over the past several weeks.
Statewide, the Labor Department said it had paid out more than $10 billion in unemployment claims since pandemic-related shutdowns took effect in mid March. By comparison, the state paid out $2.1 billion in claims in all of 2019.