The number of people in Genesee County who are part of the labor force dropped by 800, from 29,800 in March 2016 to 29,000 this March.
That's not necessarily a bad thing.
It could be a sign of a tightening labor market.
In fact, the county's unemployment rate year-over-year fell from 5.4 percent to 5.1 percent even as the total number of county residents fell from 28,200 to 27,500.
At the county level, not all employment statistics are available, but on a national level, the number of prime-age workers in the labor force has been steadily increasing since 2011, when the percentage of 25-54-year-olds in the national labor market was 75.1 percent. This march, the number it 78.5 percent, which still isn't as high as the pre-recession level of 80.2, but a marked improvement.
Tammy Morino, an economist with the Department of Labor in Rochester, said the two trends -- growing number of prime-age workers in the labor market and declining labor force participation could mean we are at or near full employment.
The 800 labor force drop in Genesee County could be explained mostly by more Baby Boomers aging out of the workforce, and whereas those retiring workers were replaced in recent years by prime-age workers re-entering the workforce, there just aren't as many workers sitting on the sidelines these days.
"It's not a phenomenon unique to the county," Morino said. "We're seeing it across the nation, the aging out of the labor force."
More than 30 percent of Genesee County's workers commute to either Rochester or Buffalo, and Morino said Monroe County has added 30,000 new jobs since the end of the recession.
The number of non-farm jobs in Genesee County held steady year-over-year at 21,900, still below the pre-recession peak of 22,900.
The idea of a tight labor market in Genesee County also fits with what Scott Gage, director of the Job Development Bureau, is seeing at his agency. The year started off with about 400 people locally re-entering the labor force, he noted, and in March, 100 people who had been drawing unemployment found work, he said.
"We’ve got a lot of jobs," he said. "We just ran the list yesterday, there are 760 jobs just in Genesee County. Some of those are seasonal jobs, but that's a lot of jobs."
According to state data, there are 1,500 people in Genesee County who are part of the labor force but do not have jobs.
To an economist, the concept of "full employment" doesn't mean at any given moment every single working-age person has a job -- because there is always some flux involved in changing jobs, changing job circumstances, changing seasonal jobs or other factors, such as workers holding out for better jobs or better pay, that put people temporarily out of work -- but that enough jobs are available to employ all those who want jobs.
"The biggest problem we're having is finding people who are willing work," Gage said. "Most of the people who were able to come back into the labor force are finding job opportunities and now there are more opportunities than available workers."
Wage data for the county is available only on a quarterly basis and the third quarter of 2016 is the most recent available data. Total quarterly wages in:
- Q3, 2016, $227,365,299
- Q3, 2015: $217,005,273
- Q3, 2014: $213,124,736
- Q3, 2013: $203,875,721
- Q3, 2012: $193,643,054
- Q3, 2011: $203,179,005
- Q3, 2010: $192,917,830
- Q3, 2008: $182,668,038
- Q3, 2007: $191,733,289