Mass. jobless rate dips, but moves higher than USBy BOB SALSBERG , Associated Press
Dec. 19, 2013 3:24 PM ET
BOSTON (AP) — The unemployment rate in Massachusetts dipped slightly in November but not enough for the state to avoid posting a higher jobless rate than the U.S. as a whole for the first month in more than six years, officials said Thursday.
The state Office of Labor and Workforce Development said the November rate stood at 7.1 percent, down from 7.2 percent in October. The national jobless rate, announced earlier, dipped to a five-year low of 7 percent last month.
The last time Massachusetts posted a monthly unemployment rate higher than the nation's was in May 2007, prior to the Great Recession, when the U.S. was at 4.4 percent and the Bay State at 4.5 percent.
State officials stressed the positive elements of the latest jobs report, which included preliminary estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that Massachusetts gained 6,500 jobs in November, along with revised estimates showing an increase of 9,400 jobs in the month of October.
The state picked up nearly 54,000 private sector jobs over the past 12 months, even as the jobless rate rose by 0.4 percent over the same period, the report said.
The jobs estimates and the monthly unemployment rate are derived from different methods, leading to the often contrasting results, officials noted.
Gov. Deval Patrick said the good news is that the state is continuing to add jobs.
He said the fact that more people are looking for work could be driving up the unemployment figure. He also said across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as sequestration, have hit Massachusetts particularly hard, calling them a drag on job creation and retention.
"We're doing everything we can do," he said. "But our work isn't done, and it's going to take a partnership between the public sector and the private sector to restore the economy."
Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker called the state job numbers "alarming."
"Massachusetts is falling behind the rest of the nation," he said. "New, more aggressive job creation strategies are needed to provide working families with the opportunities they need to stop scraping by."
Massachusetts House Republican Leader Brad Jones blamed the higher jobless numbers rate "job-killing practices" of Democrats, including recent tax hikes and a push to increase the state's minimum wage. He said the focus should be on pro-business legislation, including an overhaul of the unemployment insurance system.
Joanne Goldstein, state Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, said she was not discouraged to see the jobless rate creep above the U.S. average, noting that the state had consistently outpaced the nation during the economic recovery.
"Massachusetts recovered earlier and stronger than the nation," said Goldstein. "I'm very pleased that the nation is catching up with us."
The state's workforce has grown over the past year, Goldstein added, a factor that could help explain why the unemployment rate has trended up in recent months as more people feel confident about entering the labor force.
"There are no barriers that we see that will impede the progress that we are making," she said, while cautioning that any number of unforeseen global events could influence the state's economy.
The November report showed the largest gain in jobs — about 2,800 — in the professional, scientific and business services sector. The manufacturing sector picked up 2,100 jobs last month, but has still lost a net 1,000 jobs over the past 12 months.
The unemployment numbers come a day after a new report by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute estimates that the across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as sequestration, have cost the state more than 14,100 jobs in the 2013 federal fiscal year and are projected to cost 12,600 jobs in the new fiscal year under the current budget agreement.
The report was prepared for the state's Executive Office for Administration and Finance.
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this story.