UTICA — The end of 2018 saw more local residents employed than in 2017, but a declining unemployment rate isn’t necessarily a positive thing for everyone, experts say.
Between November 2017 and November 2018, the Utica-Rome unemployment rate decreased 1.5 percentage points to 3.7 percent, according to a report by the New York State Department of Labor.
Those numbers are part of an unemployment decrease that spanned both the state and the nation.
Yet some local experts say the lower rates mean more problems for businesses in finding qualified workers among a declining labor force.
The drop in the unemployment rate is a result of "an expansion of the labor force, with 3,800 new workers employed and a decrease in the number of jobseekers considered unemployed, which fell 1,900," said Brion Acton, labor market analyst for the Department of Labor's Mohawk Valley Region.
What this means is that more people are finding work in the area, Acton said, but since the Utica-Rome area is an aging population, people also are leaving the labor force naturally by "aging out of it."
Acton also said the region is experiencing a dynamic where people who remain in the area are finding work, but many who were seeking work have already left the area.
"Nationally, were going to end up at this low unemployment rate, just because there are less people that are not employed," Acton said. "There’s a lot of different dynamics going on — you can’t just point to one thing going on in the area."
New York state’s private sector job count increased by 114,600between November 2017 and November 2018, according to the report.
he Bureau of Labor Statistics also saw the national unemployment rate decrease by 0.4 percentage points since November 2017, and found that155,000 jobs were created in November 2018 alone.
For businesses, the lower unemployment rates mean it's harder to fill open positions with qualified workers. Lynn Loomis, manager of the Whitesboro First Choice Staffing, said that effect on hiring has been "noticeable."
"It’s actually difficult for employers," she said. "It’s good in terms of the economy; more people are working. But once you get below about a 5 percent unemployment rate, there’s just not a lot of qualified people."
Acton echoed what Loomis said— more retailers and restaurants are coming into the area and opening entry-level positions. Acton also said that the travel and accommodation industry, and the health care industry, are providing jobs in the region.
But the low unemployment rate means that positions with greater experience requirements stay open longer, Loomis said.
"It changes the dynamic a little bit," she added. "It’s not a bad thing that so many people are working, but it’s more challenging and it changes the demand."
The question of when that unemployment rate will increase is a difficult one for either Acton or Loomis to answer. Loomis said that with limited population and limited industry, the change will happen slowly unless something significant happens in the area.
"I don’t see it changing dramatically any time soon," Loomis said. "I think it’s going to be the same thing in reverse — a gradual increase (in unemployment)."