Do the state’s employment/unemployment figures paint a true picture of joblessness in Cattaraugus County?

Corey Wiktor, executive director of the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency, doesn’t think so.

“I haven’t talked to one employer who hasn’t said they are looking for people,” he said in an interview Friday.

Wiktor thinks there may be a reluctance to return to work just yet on the part of some people now receiving unemployment plus the $300 weekly federal bonus. Others may feel it is too soon to return to office settings until more people are vaccinated for COVID-19.

Whatever the reason, companies are finding it is harder to recruit employees, including entry-level positions in manufacturing, service and retail, Wiktor said.

In February, the latest month for which the New York State Department of Labor has issued detailed unemployment rates, the unemployment rate in Cattaraugus County was 7.7%. In February 2020, the nonfarm unemployment rate was 6.2%.

The February unemployment rate in Allegany County was 7.1%. A year ago, the unemployment rate was 6.4%

At the same time, the state’s unemployment rate was 8.9% in February, up from 8.8% in January. In March the state’s unemployment rate was 8.5%

Earlier this week, the Department of Labor issued a jobs report showing 61,200 private sector jobs had been added in March.

The number of residents with jobs in Cattaraugus County in March totaled 28,200, according to the Department of Labor. That’s 2,300 below the March 2020 level of 30,500 jobs, a drop of 7.5%.

The number of those people unemployed in March was 2,600 as compared to 2,100 in March 2020.

Wiktor admitted the state Department of Labor figures seem “contrary to what we are seeing.” Employers in the manufacturing, service, retail and back office sectors are looking for employees.

“We are seeing a need for people,” Wiktor said. “It goes against the numbers.”

Some people who are unemployed may be cautious about returning to the workplace over safety issues linked to COVID-19, Wiktor said.

Some others may be concerned about losing the $300 a week federal unemployment bonus on top of their state unemployment and are unwilling to return to work, he added.

“It’s the number one topic — some people who are still out are not willing to come back,” Wiktor said. There is even talk of signing bonuses to get people back in the workforce.

“I think all this will correct itself,” Wiktor said. “Some employers may realign their pay and benefits packages.”

Many employers have told Wiktor their companies could do more business if they had more people. “There’s a need in our region for employment.”

After 2020’s disastrous unemployment that hit 15.7% in New York state in June, Wiktor acknowledges the jobs picture has improved markedly.

But the state’s 8.5% unemployment in March has a long way to get to match the 3.9% unemployment rate in June 2019.

The unemployment rates in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties are both lower that the state’s rate.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Wiktor said. “There’s no question there is opportunity here.”