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Jobs decline–economic downturn or anomaly?

Rochester’s economy appeared to shrink again in March, with a loss in the number of non-farm and private-sector jobs, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday. The region was one of three statewide with job losses.

But that may not be an accurate picture of what is happening in the local economy.

“I think what we’re looking at is this is not an economic event,” said Tammy Marino, associate economist for the Finger Lake region at the Department of Labor. “It’s more of a sampling issue.”

Payroll jobs data by industry come from a monthly survey of 18,000 business establishments statewide. An issue with the sample can throw off job numbers, making it appear as though the economy is on a downward spiral, Marino said.

From March 2015 to March 2016, the Rochester metro area shed 2,500 non-farm jobs, or 0.5 percent, while the private sector lost 2,400 jobs, or 0.5 percent, according to the Department of Labor data. Non-farm jobs include private-sector and government jobs.

But the numbers began to go off course after the fourth quarter 2015, Marino explained, and in February and March showed significant declines in the local job market.

“It’s possible the job market has slowed a little bit,” she acknowledged. “But I think it’s much more likely the sample is undercounting employment. The current employment survey is not accurately depicting conditions in the local job market.”

Because the survey is designed to pick up month-to-month changes in employment, starting the year off with an undercount means the numbers will not be corrected until the Department of Labor conducts its annual revision process at the end of 2016, Marino said.

“Because of that, this pattern will probably continue for at least the next few months,” she said.

Despite the reported decline in jobs locally, Marino said, other data sets indicate Rochester’s economy is doing well. That includes a decline in unemployment insurance claims and a drop in the jobless rate from a year ago. Job listings have been on the rise as well.

“When we look at the other data that’s available to us, it does not support a weakening job market,” she explained. “It indicates a healthy job market that’s expanding.”

The Buffalo region added 3,500 non-farm jobs and 2,600 private-sector jobs in March, while Syracuse gained 1,000 non-farm jobs and 700 private-sector jobs, not seasonally adjusted.

Statewide, the number of non-farm jobs increased by 141,500 from March 2015 to March 2016, while the private sector added 133,800 jobs. From February to March, the state added 14,100 non-farm jobs and 12,800 private-sector jobs.

A record 7.89 million people were employed statewide last month, the Department of Labor reported.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in New York last month was unchanged at 4.8 percent and remained below the U.S. rate of 5 percent. New York’s jobless rate is at its lowest level since November 2007.

Statewide, the education and health services sector continued to show the largest gains in jobs year-over-year, while the manufacturing sector reported the steepest decline.

Local employment rates are scheduled to be released next week.

(c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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