Erie County’s employment picture continues to brighten as 2015 draws to a close as recently released labor figures for October demonstrate steadily increasing employment in Erie County, a trend that has continued throughout my time in office. As more workers are finding jobs, it is important for us to work to ensure that those workers are treated equally in the workplace and businesses seeking to take part in our region’s economic revival play by the rules. While a vibrant new economy is forming here in Buffalo Niagara, challenges remain ahead and this month we will look at the successes of the past year and how we are working to build on them.
Labor statistics are generated and released by the NYS Department of Labor each month and provide a barometer of the economic health of our community. It is encouraging to hear that unemployment, which was over 8% when I took office in January 2012, has continued to fall in our region and declined to 4.8% in October 2015. This is the first time in many years that unemployment has dipped below 5%, and indeed the unemployment number was 5.3% in October 2014. It is proof our economy is growing, but you have to dig deep into the statistics to understand what this trend actually means for our community.
The drop in unemployment between October 2014 and October 2015 translates into 8,000 more people employed in 2015 in Erie County who were not working last year. That’s thousands of individuals now earning a paycheck and employed in the new Erie County, adding to the economic momentum that is boosting our entire area. As these jobs are becoming a reality and our economy becomes more robust, and in order to ensure that the benefits of this new economy reach all, at the ECIDA we are working to be certain that employers are not discriminating against their employees and that any business seeking an incentive is current in paying taxes. These are common sense, easily achievable ways to protect workers and taxpayers.
Despite some pushback from the business community, we continue to advocate an Equal Pay Policy at the ECIDA that requires businesses seeking a tax break to demonstrate they are in compliance with Equal Pay laws and are not discriminating against employees based on gender. Equal pay for equal work is the law and, opposition from local business notwithstanding, we will continue to insist on it at the ECIDA. We are also advocating a tax scofflaw policy that would prohibit the ECIDA from incentivizing any business that has failed to pay its taxes, either locally or elsewhere. While this policy has also drawn the ire of the business community, we feel it is more important to protect the public’s money by not giving incentives to companies that have been shown to act in bad faith. Erie County residents expect an agency that demands fair treatment for workers and does not dole out tax breaks to tax evaders, and we are building that culture of accountability and transparency at the ECIDA.