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Hiring in the Buffalo Niagara region continued its slow but steady pace in May.

Local companies added 3,600 jobs during the past year – a 0.7 percent increase from May 2013 – according to new data released Thursday by the state Labor Department.

The steady pace of hiring pushed employment levels to their highest for any May since 2008, before the Great Recession began taking a toll on the local job market.

The new figures show that the local job market continues to gain strength, but its growth pales in comparison with the gains across the state and throughout the nation. Job growth locally is less than half of the 1.8 percent expansion across the country, and is more than a third slower than the 1.1 percent employment gain statewide over the last year.

Even so, the region now has recovered 85 percent – all but 2,000 – of the 13,400 jobs it lost during the recession, the Labor Department said.

While the pace of the job growth has been modest, John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo, said the local employment market has been on the upswing for four years.

“It’s this continuous improvement, but it’s been going on for four years,” he said.

Most of the gains in hiring last month came from service companies, which expanded their employment at a 0.8 percent annual rate.

Hiring was brisk at local stores, which grew by 2.4 percent over the last year, while educational services also expanded briskly, with a 4.2 percent increase in the last year. Professional and business services jobs grew by 1.5 percent.

Those gains offset continued weakness in manufacturing, which lost jobs at a 0.6 percent annual pace. The financial services sector also was weak, shedding 3.1 percent of its jobs between May 2013 and May 2014, the Labor Department said.

Job growth in the private sector was on par with the overall gains, also rising by 0.7 percent over the last year.

The job growth in Buffalo Niagara was far stronger than the 0.2 percent increase in employment across the 52 counties of upstate New York. Among the state’s 14 major metropolitan areas, Buffalo Niagara’s job growth tied with Rochester for fifth-highest, trailing New York City, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com