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The March unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region fell to 7.1 percent – its lowest level for any March since 2008 – as modest job growth helped reduce the ranks of the unemployed.

The jobless rate has dropped by more than a full percentage point over the past year. Unemployment stood at 8.2 percent in March 2013, and is down by more than two percentage points from its 2010 peak following the Great Recession.

The drop in the jobless rate during March continued a trend of declining unemployment that began during February 2013 and has continued uninterrupted ever since, according to statistics released Tuesday by the state Labor Department.

It also comes at a time when the region added jobs at an annual growth rate of about 0.6 percent from March 2013 to March 2014, which is fairly average growth by local standards but still less than half the pace of employment growth nationally.

The modest, but steady pace of hiring across the region has helped slash the number of people who were looking for work but couldn’t find a job by 14 percent during the past year. At the same time, the number of people who were employed in the Buffalo Niagara region grew by a less than 1 percent during the past year, leaving it at its highest level for any March since 2009.

However, the region still has 22,000 fewer people who are employed than it did in March 2007, which means it will take a significant boost in hiring to push the jobless rate down to the 4 percent to 6 percent range that was common before the recession began.

The local jobless rate was higher than the 6.8 percent U.S. unemployment rate, without adjusting for seasonal factors, and was slightly less than the statewide rate of 7.1 percent. The local rate was slightly higher than the 7 percent jobless rate across the 52 counties of upstate New York.

The March jobless rate also was down significantly from the 7.6 percent rate during February. But because the unemployment rate is not seasonally adjusted, economists warn that it can be misleading to compare jobless levels with the previous month because employment levels can vary significantly from one month to the next because of those seasonal factors.

Among the state’s 14 major metro areas, Buffalo Niagara’s unemployment rate was tied with Syracuse for the seventh-lowest. Cities with higher jobless rates were Binghamton, Elmira, Glens Falls, Utica and New York.

The jobless rate fell by a full percentage point in both Erie and Niagara counties over the past year, dropping to 6.9 percent in Erie County and 8.1 percent in Niagara County.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com