An economic recovery that’s still under way

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In recent weeks, a new wave of infections and hospitalizations has been an unwelcome reminder that COVID is still with us. The latest numbers on the Rochester-area economy have told a similar story: The recovery from the pandemic remains a work in progress.

First, the good news: The Rochester metro unemployment rate last month was 3.2 percent, down from 3.6 percent in July 2022 and not far off the historic low of 2.5 percent recorded in April. Total nonfarm employment was 522,000, versus 517,3000 a year earlier, a gain of 0.9 percent. Private-sector jobs grew 0.7 percent.

But in a trend that began last year, the recovery has clearly slowed. Previously, the rebound here outpaced the state and nation; now, job growth in Rochester lags both.

Statewide, the nonfarm employment growth rate was 1.5 percent, while private-sector employment grew 1.8 percent; across the U.S., the growth rates were 2.1 percent for both. The Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse regions all added jobs at a higher rate than Rochester.

Many metropolitan areas nationwide have replaced all of the jobs lost in the pandemic. By contrast, the Rochester region is still notably shy of the employment level it had before COVID was declared a global pandemic in March 2020.

In February 2020, nonfarm employment in the Rochester region totaled 533,400. With the pandemic lockdown, the jobs count plummeted—in April 2020, there were 444,400 nonfarm jobs. By July 2020, as the economy slowly reopened, the number had crept up to 470,100.

Last month’s total of 522,000, while a year-over-year increase, remains 11,400 below the February 2020 number and down 12,500 compared with July 2019. (The data are not seasonally adjusted, so the best comparisons are year-to-year of the same month.)

Rochester has performed comparatively better in terms of unemployment. The metro area’s jobless rate of 3.2 percent in July was better than both the New York (4.1 percent) and U.S. (3.8 percent) rates. It also was slightly less than the 3.3 percent rate in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region. However, the Albany region (2.9 percent) and the Syracuse metro (3.1 percent) had better numbers.

Monroe County’s jobless rate in July was 3.3 percent, versus 3.8 percent in July 2022. Elsewhere in the Rochester region, the July rates were Livingston County, 2.9 percent; Ontario County, 2.7 percent; Orleans County, 3.5 percent; Wayne County, 2.7 percent; and Yates County, 2.5 percent.

The state 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.

Nationwide, employers added 187,000 jobs last month, marking 31 straight months of growth. The jobless rate—3.5 percent—was near a record low. Many economists believe slower growth is more sustainable and could help avert a recession.

Locally, a rate of business starts that is just outside the top third nationwide reflects optimism about the outlook for the regional economy.

Can new businesses be the key to finally closing the remaining jobs gap created by the pandemic? That remains to be seen.

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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