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What’s needed now

It still is possible to be a skeptic about the recovery of the U.S. economy, but it’s getting harder.

Last Friday, the U.S. Labor Department reported a seasonally adjusted gain of 257,000 jobs in January. What’s more, earlier estimates for November and December were revised upward by nearly 150,000 jobs—bringing the three-month total to more than 1 million. That’s the strongest three months of job growth in some 17 years.

Indeed, 2014 was the best year for job creation since 1999—which seems like an eternity ago.

The report also contained good news on the wage front. Average hourly pay rose 0.5 percent—the biggest gain since 2008—to $24.75. Hourly pay has increased 2.2 percent, outpacing inflation by more than 1.5 percentage points.

More positive numbers arrived this week. The Labor Department said the number of available jobs posted by U.S. employers rose in December to a level not seen in 14 years. The number of people in the labor force has increased, and so too has the number of workers quitting their jobs—a sign of confidence.

Locally, both private-sector and non-farm jobs rose at the end of last year, and the unemployment rate in December was 5.4 percent, down from 6.1 percent a year earlier.

Employer optimism also has increased, according to the annual RBJ-Siena Business Leader Survey, a component of the Siena College Research Institute Upstate New York Business Leader Survey. A year ago, Rochester lagged other upstate markets in this regard; now, area business leaders are more upbeat than their peers.

The challenge now is to translate that optimism into greater action. As M&T Bank Corp. regional chief Daniel Burns noted last week at RBJ’s economic outlook breakfast: “The loan window is wide open. We’re dying to make loans, but I think Rochester as well as the Northeast is very conservative.”

Without some prudent business risk-taking, this area could find itself playing catch-up with the broader economy. We can—and should—do better than that.

2/13/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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