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The Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent in October – its lowest level in nearly five years – as local companies continued to hire at a modest pace, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The October jobless rate was the lowest for that month since 2008, just as the recession was taking hold, and the lowest for any month since December 2008. The local unemployment rate has dropped steadily since this spring as job growth throughout the region has maintained a steady but unspectacular annualized pace of around 0.9 percent during each of the past three months.

“It’s been a pretty good couple of months,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “It’s positive and steady. All the numbers we’re seeing are going in the right direction.”

The jobless report was the first glimpse at the region’s unemployment picture in two months, after the federal government shutdown prompted the state Labor Department to cancel its September reports on job growth and unemployment.

During both September and October, the region added jobs at a 0.9 percent annual pace, which is solid by local standards but still only a little better than half of the nationwide job growth rate of 1.7 percent during the same period.

Even so, the 5,100 jobs that local employers added over the past 12 months bring the area within 700 jobs of where it could claim to have recovered all of the jobs it lost during the Great Recession – something the area never came close to doing after the 2001 recession.

Hiring was even stronger among the region’s private-sector businesses, which added jobs at a more robust 1.4 percent annual pace. But those gains were offset by job cuts by cash-strapped government agencies, which shed 1.6 percent of their jobs.

As a result, the region is adding new positions at a pace that is squarely in the middle of the range that has been typical of nonrecessionary periods over the last two decades, when employment growth generally has ranged from flat to expanding by as much as 1.6 percent on an annualized basis.

“Our job growth is growing faster than our population,” Slenker said.

That helped push the jobless rate down. With the region creating jobs, more workers decided to start looking for employment. Roughly 1,600 new workers began looking for jobs last month, compared with September, but the local job market was more than able to absorb them.

Roughly 4,600 more workers were employed last month than during October 2012, while the ranks of the unemployed dropped by 5,600 people.

Still, the number of people looking for work is 55 percent higher than it was in October 2007. The 7 percent jobless rate ranks as the fifth-highest for any October since 1990.

There has been some improvement from the darkest days of the Great Recession. The quicker hiring pace has helped slash the number of people who were looking for work but couldn’t find a job by 12 percent during the past year. It also reduced the ranks of the unemployed to the lowest level for any month since November 2008, before the recession began hammering the local job market.

At the same time, the number of people who were employed in the Buffalo Niagara region grew by a little less than 1 percent during the past year, and it was at its highest level for any October since 2008.

However, the region still has 25,000 fewer people who are employed than it did in October 2005.

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Unemployment rate falls

Buffalo Niagara unemployment rate

2013

October 7.0 %

September 7.2 %

August 7.3 %

July 7.4 %

June 7.3 %

April 7.7 %

March 8.4 %

February 9.2 %

January 9.6 %

2012

December 8.4 %

November 7.8 %

October 7.9 %

September 8.1 %

August 8.4 %

July 8.9 %

June 8.5 %

Unemployment rates in WNY counties

Allegany County 7.4 %

Cattaraugus County 8.2 %

Chautauqua County 8.2 %

Erie County 7.9 %

Genesee County 7.2 %

Niagara County 8.2 %

Orleans County 10.0 %

Wyoming County 7.6 %

Source: State Labor Department

email: drobinson@buffnews.com