SouthCoast TODAY – New Bedford area’s unemployment drops in March


NEW BEDFORD — Adding nearly 1,000 jobs between February and March, the New Bedford Area’s unemployment level fell to just below that of the Fall River Area, which took the number one spot in the state.

According to the latest seasonally unadjusted numbers from the state, the area’s rate fell from 11.3 percent in February to 10.8 percent last month — that’s compared to 6.6 percent unemployment statewide.

The Fall River area secured the top spot, increasing from 10.6 percent to 10.9 percent unemployment.

Roy Nascimento, president and CEO of the New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce, said he was glad the area no longer holds the top spot.

“It’s definitely a positive sign to see the unemployment rate go down, although it’s still way too high,” he said.

Nascimento said companies are hiring in the area, including Southcoast Health System, Joseph Abboud Manufacturing, and Precix Inc.

“We definitely have our challenges, and most of those challenges are around the skills gap and helping create good employment opportunities,” he said.

The state also released March unemployment numbers for cities and towns. New Bedford’s unemployment rate was 12.7 percent in March, a 0.6 percent decline from the month before and 1.9 percent lower than March of last year.

Dartmouth’s rate was 8.7 percent in March, compared to 9.5 percent in Fairhaven, 7.2 percent in Mattapoisett, and 5.6 percent in Boston. Fall River’s rate was 14.7 percent.

Partially because they don’t account for those who have dropped out of the labor force, unemployment numbers can be deceptive, according to Barry Bluestone, director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University.

“The unemployment rate disguises so much that can be going on, and it has to do with the way we define unemployment,” Bluestone said.

In October, Bluestone authored a study for the Boston Federal Reserve Bank looking at job growth among “working cities” in Massachusetts — how cities have fared since 2001 and what factors are at play.

Chelsea performed better than the rest of the state, with 10.8 percent job growth during that period. New Bedford was sixth best across Massachusetts, with 2.1 percent job growth between 2001 and 2013. Bluestone said New Bedford’s job growth was three times the state’s 0.7 percent over that period.

“New Bedford is actually doing a little bit better than the other working cities, and indeed, did better than the state as a whole,” he said. “Surprise surprise.”

According to Bluestone’s research, the most important variable correlated with job growth is the availability of development sites in a city.

“That may be one reason why New Bedford shows up better than other communities,” he said.

The other top variables are amenities in a city, development-related marketing efforts, and the quickness of permitting and other types of approvals.

“How quickly can we get up and running,” Bluestone said. “… It turns out, by God, that matters.”

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