The Buffalo Niagara job market stayed stuck in the mud during October, but local economists think the numbers are a bit too gloomy.
The monthly jobs report issued Thursday by the state Labor Department indicated that the region lost 100 jobs during the 12 months from October 2011 to October 2012, marking the third consecutive month that the region has lost jobs.
While October’s job loss was tiny, the Labor Department also revised its September job numbers to indicate that the job losses that month were worse than initially reported. The region lost 1,300 jobs during the 12-month period that ended in September, more than triple the 400-job loss that was initially reported.
The job losses, while small, are a concerning sign that the region’s recovery from the recession, which began with unusual vigor, has run out of steam over the past year. It also comes at a time when the rest of the state is adding jobs at a modest pace, and so is the country as a whole.
But some local economists think there is a glitch in one part of the jobs report that is making the local job market appear weaker than it really is.
“The numbers appear to be slowing,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “But I think the labor market is actually a little better than the numbers are saying.”
Gary D. Keith, M&T Bank’s chief economist, agrees.
“I’m leery of it,” Keith said of the declining job trend, following a talk to members of the Niagara USA Chamber on Thursday morning, before the latest job numbers were released.
Keith, noting the wide swings in some of the job survey’s industry groups such as professional and business services employment, said he is cautious about reading too much into the monthly job and unemployment numbers. He predicted that the region’s unemployment rate, which has been steadily rising this year to a seasonally adjusted 9.2 percent in September, could be revised downward once updated data is released by the state in March.
If that happens, the biggest change likely will center around how many jobs are in an obscure category called administrative and support, and waste management and remediation services. In a region where most segments of the job market vary only by a couple of percentage points over the course of the year, the administrative and support category stands out because the data reports a whopping 19.1 percent decline in the segment’s jobs – a total of 6,500 positions.
“If you think some of these numbers don’t make sense, you’ve got a lot of company,” Keith said, noting that officials from the Cuomo administration also have questioned some of the jobs data. “Don’t be surprised if they’re not revised in the coming year.”
But those revisions won’t be done until March 2013. Until then, the local job numbers will continue to be skewed by what the economists view as the questionable administrative and support services employment data.
If the economists are right and the 6,500-job decline is revised to show fewer jobs lost, then Slenker thinks the updated statistics will show that the local job market is growing at an annual rate of somewhere around 0.5 percent, only about a third to a half of the nationwide growth rate, but still a major psychological shift from stagnancy and slow decline to slow growth.
As it stands now, however, the three-month streak of job losses is the region’s longest in 2½ years and is a major reversal of the pattern the local job market had followed since the recession ended three years ago. While the Buffalo Niagara region initially enjoyed job growth more robust than many other areas, the employment market has consistently slowed to a crawl over the past year, to the point where the recent job losses make Western New York one of the weakest job markets in the state.
The 100-job decline in October amounts to a drop of less than 0.1 percent and indicates that the early fall job market was close to stagnant.
The October job numbers also portrayed a widely contrasting job market, with pockets of strength offset by areas with significant weakness. Construction remains robust, adding 600 jobs from October 2011 to October 2012, a 2.7 percent increase. Manufacturing continued its post-recession rebound, gaining 400 over the past year, a 0.8 percent increase. The trade sector also expanded, with employment in wholesale trade rising 3.3 percent and retail trade jobs growing 1.5 percent.
But overall, the service sector, which had been the engine for the region’s job growth for most of the past decade, is struggling, with the number of service jobs sliding by 0.2 percent overall. That drop was fueled by a 2.2 percent decline in jobs within the financial sector and a 3 percent drop in leisure and hospitality positions. Both sectors previously had been sources of strength for the local job market. Professional and business services jobs tumbled by 6.8 percent, and it is the size of those declines that has raised Keith’s skepticism.
The local job losses stood in stark contrast with the modest job growth taking place throughout the country and across the state. Nationwide, job growth during October hit 1.4 percent, without adjusting for seasonal factors, while it was slightly stronger in New York, at 1.5 percent.
Among the state’s 14 major metro areas, only Elmira, with a 1.5 percent drop in jobs, and Binghamton, with its 1.1 percent decline, were weaker than the Buffalo Niagara region during October.
The pace of job growth varied widely across rural portions of Western New York, ranging from a 1.8 percent jump in Cattaraugus County to a 0.8 percent decline in Wyoming County. In between, the job market was flat in Allegany and Genesee counties, and the number of jobs slid by 0.6 percent in Chautauqua County.
Stagnancy settles in
Job growth rate for Buffalo Niagara and other metropolitan areas from October 2011 to October 2012:
Ithaca +3.7 percent
New York City +2.6 percent
Rochester +0.7 percent
Albany +0.7 percent
Utica-Rome +0.6 percent
Nassau-Suffolk +0.5 percent
Syracuse +0.1 percent
Buffalo Niagara Unchanged
Binghamton -1.1 percent
Source: State Labor Department