After several months of increasingly worrisome local employment figures, the March numbers released over the past week seemingly offer reason to be upbeat. The Rochester-area economy had a lower unemployment rate and gains in non-farm and private-sector jobs.
However, just as an overly pessimistic view of previous months' data was to be avoided, a note of caution should accompany the new numbers.
Consider the jobless figures. The state Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate for metropolitan Rochester-Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans and Wayne counties-declined to 8 percent from 8.3 percent a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted, so year-over-year comparisons are best).
This reflects a decline of 4,200 in the number of unemployed people in the Rochester area. But the number of employed people also declined, by 900. The explanation? A decrease in the size of the labor force.
As for the increases in non-farm and private-sector jobs-1,100 and 200, respectively, compared with March 2012-they mark a positive turn from the declines in the first two months of the year. But as M&T Bank Corp. economist Gary Keith notes on this week's Economy Track page, it's not exactly cause for celebration. The private-sector gain, he writes, "paled in comparison to the average year-over-year gain of 3,700 recorded throughout 2012."
His column also points to a fact noted here before: the continuing impact of Eastman Kodak Co.'s downsizing. Using preliminary data from the Census of Employment and Wages, he shows how the chemical manufacturing sector-where Kodak jobs are concentrated-accounts for the biggest chunk of job losses. Combined, all other manufacturing sectors actually added a small number of jobs.
The dimming job picture late last year and early in 2013 was particularly disheartening to some because Rochester had boasted one of the best private-sector job growth records among the nation's 100 largest metro areas since the start of the Great Recession.
In reality, the region's performance probably was neither as strong as it appeared then nor as weak as it seemed this past winter.
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