Jobless rates dropping all over MA

Of 10 metro areas in US with biggest declines, 7 from Bay State

NEW ECONOMIC DATA suggest the state’s labor market is nearing full capacity, which is translating into employment gains across the state and not just in metropolitan Boston.

A group of Massachusetts economists released a MassBenchmarks report on Wednesday suggesting tight labor market conditions are likely to lead to worker shortages in some occupations and high wage rates for jobs in skilled manufacturing and construction.

The report said the unemployment rates of the state’s Gateway Cities, while down, remain “stubbornly above” the unemployment rate in the Boston area. But the economists’ report was based on a discussion they held on Dec. 9, and since then new numbers have come out suggesting that many areas of the state are seeing a dramatic reduction in their unemployment rates.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, N.H., metropolitan area had an unemployment rate in November of 2.4 percent, which tied for the lowest rate among areas with a population of 1 million or more. Boston’s unemployment rate was 1.7 percentage points lower than it was a year ago.

But the good news extended well beyond Boston. Six other metro areas in the state reported even bigger unemployment rate drops over the last year; indeed, Massachusetts communities held seven of the top 10 spots, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

New Bedford led the nation, with its unemployment rate falling 2.8 percentage points from 6.5 percent in November 2015 to 3.7 percent in November 2016. It was the second time New Bedford’s falling unemployment rate led the nation; the first came in May 2014, when the rate hit 7.6 percent, down from 10.4 percent the year before.

The other areas of the state reporting big drops in the unemployment rate were Barnstable, Leominster-Gardner, Pittsfield, Springfield, and Worcester. The November unemployment rates of those five metro areas ranged from a low of 2.8 percent in Worcester to a high of 3.1 percent in Springfield and Barnstable.

Unemployment rate falls

The state’s overall unemployment rate was 2.9 percent in November, the lowest it has been since January 2001.

The economists said the state economy should experience “moderate growth” in 2017 and predicted the presidency of Donald Trump could help the state in some areas (infrastructure investment, military spending) and hurt it in others (immigration policy, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and international trade).

“Until the policy priorities of the new administration become clearer later this year, state policymakers will be forced to contend with an uncertain policy environment in addition to a sluggish global economy,” the report said. “While the stakes for Massachusetts are very high, the Commonwealth remains one of the most competitive economies in the world and is as well positioned as any state in the US to manage through whatever comes next.”

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who remembers his city experiencing an unemployment rate greater than 20 percent when he was a teenager, said he was very pleased with the recent decline. He said it is tempting – but not appropriate – for elected officials to take credit for economic growth.

“We do benefit from the rising tide in the Northeast and certainly Massachusetts,” he said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Mitchell said his focus is on making the local economy sustainable and less susceptible to economic downturns. He said his administration’s focus has been on diversifying the city’s economy, developing the port and fishing industry while also trying to attract tech companies and offshore wind developers. “From the start, we’ve tried to capitalize on New Bedford’s potential and we’re starting to realize that potential,” he said.

Asked if New Bedford still needed South Coast Rail, which would connect Boston to southeastern Massachusetts, Mitchell said it did. He described South Coast Rail not as a lifeline but as an approach to city building. “Cities don’t succeed in the long run because of just one thing,” he said.