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The Buffalo Niagara region’s jobless rate continued to drop in February.

Its unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent from 8.8 percent a year ago, according to state Labor Department data. That was the lowest rate for February since 2008, and it was the 13th straight month in which the rate declined on a year-over-year basis.

“All of the numbers have been showing me that we are doing steadily better,” said John Slenker, regional economist with the Labor Department.

The Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate was slightly better than the statewide rate of 7.7 percent but still higher than the U.S. rate of 7 percent. It matched Syracuse’s rate but was higher than Rochester’s 7.2 percent rate.

Figures for another piece of the employment puzzle – job creation – were released last week and showed the region added jobs in February at a pace of slightly less than 1 percent. The pace was roughly on par with the pace of growth since the start of fall, interrupted by a small decline in December that may have been due to the unusually cold winter.

“You’d like (job growth) to be a little stronger, but the slow, steady improvement is very sustainable, it’s not a boom-bust cycle,” Slenker said.

Slenker said January and February are typically the region’s highest two months of unemployment, so if that pattern holds, the rate should continue to go down. As the weather gets better, more job opportunities arise as places such as restaurants open outdoor patios, and golf courses open for business. And the region has benefited from a number of positive job announcements, he said.

“I don’t see any big drags on the economy,” he said.

Christopher Beckage, vice president of the north region for the Superior Group staffing firm, said he has seen employment conditions starting to tilt in workers’ favor, moving from an employer-driven job market to a job candidate-driven market.

Employers are responding more quickly to candidates for employment, and those employers are willing to pay market rate for those workers, eager to grab available talent, he said. “They don’t have 10 overqualified people standing at the door anymore.”

Another trend Beckage has noticed: more employers offering direct jobs to candidates, instead of just contract-to-direct jobs that essentially serve as a tryout and don’t come with the same job security or benefits.

Beckage has seen an increase in hiring in professional job categories, including accounting, engineering and information technology. The Medical Campus is also driving more hiring activity, he said. Meanwhile, there is low supply and high demand for trade jobs such as machinists and welders, he said.

Within the region, Erie County’s unemployment rate was 7.4 percent, while Niagara County’s was 8.7 percent, the Labor Department said. The City of Buffalo’s jobless rate was 9 percent compared with 10.4 percent a year ago, and Niagara Falls’ rate was 10.5 percent, compared with 12.3 percent a year ago.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com