The local economy is still in catch-up mode

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While the Delta coronavirus variant and supply-chain disruptions have dampened the economic rebound nationally, the Rochester area’s steady recovery continued in September. And for the third straight month, the region outperformed the statewide averages for job growth and unemployment. 

At the same time, the latest numbers underscore the fact that the metro economy has not regained all of the ground lost when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in spring 2020.

The state Labor Department’s data on nonfarm jobs in September, compared with a year earlier, showed the Rochester metro region with a gain of 22,400, or 4.6 percent. While the rebound from the pandemic continues, the pace has slowed: In August, the gain was 33,100 jobs, or 7 percent; and in July and June, it was even higher—40,900 (8.7 percent) and 36,900 (7.8 percent), respectively.

The Rochester region still compares favorably to New York as a whole, however. 

Statewide, nonfarm employment rose 2.6 percent in September, compared with a 5 percent increase in August, 7.1 percent increase in July and 8.3 percent in June. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

The Rochester region also outpaced New York in private-sector job growth in September, up 5.3 percent compared with 3.7 percent statewide. As with nonfarm employment, the rate of increase has declined over the last three months: June (8.6 percent), July (8.5 percent) and August (6.7 percent).

The string of monthly job gains has put the local economy on a much stronger footing, but it still is digging out of the hole created by the pandemic. Total nonfarm employment reached 513,200 in September, up from 441,700 in April 2020, when the Covid lockdown was in full force. But it was 538,400 in September 2019 and 541,800 in April of that year.

Likewise, private-sector employment climbed back to 436,331 in September, versus 369,733 in April 2020, but it’s still down compared with September (458,260) and April (461,530) in 2019.

Jobless rate declines again

The metro unemployment rate in September was 4.4 percent, compared with 6.3 percent a year earlier, the latest monthly report from the Labor Department shows. In August, the rate was 5.2 percent, versus 9 percent in August 2020.

Monroe County’s jobless rate in September was 4.7 percent, down from 5.5 percent in August and 6.8 percent in September 2020. Elsewhere in the Rochester region, the September rates were Livingston County, 3.6 percent; Ontario County, 3.6 percent; Orleans County, 4.3 percent; Wayne County, 3.8 percent; and Yates County, 3.2 percent.

Statewide, the September rate was 6.3 percent; nationwide, it was 4.6 percent.

The Labor Department calculates local area unemployment rates in part using the results of the Current Population Survey, which contacts approximately 3,100 households in New York each month. The data are preliminary and are not seasonally adjusted.

The outlook

If the latest national numbers signal where the economy is headed, there is reason for optimism about the local recovery. On Friday, the federal government said the U.S. added 531,000 jobs in October, easily beating economists’ expectations, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent. The new data suggest that employers are shaking off the effects of the Delta variant and supply-chain bottlenecks.

The U.S. Labor Department also revised upward the jobs added in September, to 312,000 from the initially reported 194,000, and in August, to 483,000 from 366,000. The labor-force participation rate was up slightly after falling in September.

Only a week earlier, the government had reported the weakest quarterly GDP growth since the pandemic recovery began, but economists predicted that output in the final three months of the year would be much stronger.

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.

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