Massachusetts unemployment rate highest in the country — again

Almost 90 percent of restaurant jobs furloughed or lost during pandemic

MASSACHUSETTS HAS THE HIGHEST unemployment rate in the country for the second month in a row, as the state continues the struggle to regain its economic footing.  

The Bay State had the nation’s highest unemployment rate in July at 16.1 percent, down from 17.4 percent in June, according to new data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released Friday morning.  

New York has the next highest unemployment rate, at 15.9 percent. The national unemployment rate for the month was 10.2 percent, down from 11.1 percent in June.  

As the reopening of businesses continues, 72,000 Massachusetts jobs were added in July, but that is dwarfed by the 450,000 jobs lost since July 2019.  

The prolonged shutdown had a disproportionately negative effect on restaurants, retailers, hospitality, and tourism, with some industries still not allowed to reopen their doors,” said Chris Carlozzi, state director of the National Federation of Independent BusinessCarlozzi said it is time for the state to move forward in the reopening process “to bring workers back into the workplace and off the unemployment rolls.”  

Beginning in mid-March, businesses were forced to close by the state in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus. The state began a multi-phased reopening process on May 18, but it’s been slow-going for restaurants and retail in particular. Gov. Charlie Baker has indefinitely paused continued reopening plans due to an early August spike in COVID-19 cases, leaving bars and live music venues shuttered.  

The seven-day weighted average for positive COVID-19 cases among those getting tested has dropped to 1.3 percent, the lowest it has been in weeks, but several urban hubs across the state have numbers much higher than the statewide average.  

The restaurant industry has taken a particularly significant hit, with 89 percent of the state’s 300,000 employees in the sector furloughed since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. Restaurants were shut down except for limited takeout and delivery from March 15 until outdoor dining reopened on June 8, followed by indoor dining on June 22. The trade group says most restaurants are struggling to achieve 50 percent of their prior year sales levels.  

As a result, they have only called back approximately 50 percent of their workforce, so our employees continue to be largely unemployed at this time,” said Bob Luz, executive director of the restaurant groupHe said the state has the tenth highest volume in food and beverage sales in the country, part of the reason why the industry has been so significantly impacting unemployment numbers.   

The Commonwealth is seeing far higher unemployment than neighboring states, with Connecticut at 10.2 percent in July and New Hampshire at 8.1 percent.  

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

“Massachusetts continues to lead the rest of the country in the percentage of people out of work. It’s not a statistic to be proud of,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative think tank. He urged Baker and legislative leaders to “do everything they can to reopen the state economy,” and not raise taxes or increase spending in the near future.  

“The Legislature was not focused on the economy when they met in July. When they decide to meet again, it’s time they wake up to the reality that they are forcing businesses and residents to live every day,” Craney said