Perhaps you’ve seen the news recently about a rather startling revision of employment numbers in the Buffalo/Niagara region. In case you missed it, here is the gist: preliminary numbers said the region added 8,900 jobs in calendar year 2015. That figure represented a 1.6 percent increase that would have been the strongest job growth the area had seen since 1999. However, when the revised figures came out, what was once 6,100 new jobs, turned into 2,900 new jobs. And that 1.6 percent job growth rate we just mentioned, it plummeted to a disappointing 0.5 percent, well below the statewide and national growth rates.
Further adding to the confusion, John Slenker, the labor department’s regional economist in Buffalo, thinks the newly announced fourth-quarter slump is overstated, and the numbers will be revised AGAIN a year from now.
That same story suggested that Slenker’s more optimistic view is backed up by local unemployment data, which shows that the Buffalo Niagara jobless rate has steadily declined for nearly four straight years since peaking at 9.4 percent in February 2012. It dropped to 5.7 percent in January.
And while those numbers are accurate, they do not tell the full story.
Consider the following, from 2012 thru 2015:
- Erie County’s unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent to 5.4 percent
- At the time the county’s labor force fell by 12,000, from 461,000 to 449,000, a drop of 2.6 percent.
- Total employment grew by just 1,800 positions, or 0.4 percent.
- Compared to 2008 job figures, jobs in 2015 were DOWN by 22,000, or 5 percent below pre-recession levels.
Adding all that together and saying it a different way, of the 38,400 Erie County residents unemployed in 2012, only 1,800 got jobs, 12,000 left town or quit looking, and 24,000 remain jobless.
These data show a continuing story of slow economic growth in upstate New York. New York needs to make its economy more competitive for investment and job growth statewide. Small business tax cuts, elimination of energy assessments, and meaningful workers’ compensation reform are all part of the economic remedy. The last thing New York needs is a massive increase in wage costs, which is what the proposed $15 minimum wage, and its accompanying $15.7 billion dollar statewide price tag, would bring.