Mass. jobless rate rises slightly; Sluggishness across sectors

By Bob Salsberg, The Associated Press | The Worcester Telegram | September 21, 2012

The Massachusetts unemployment rate edged up two-tenths of a point in August while preliminary figures showed the state losing about 4,800 jobs during the month, the office of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday.

The jobless rate stood at 6.3 percent in August, up from 6.1 percent in July. The rate is down from 7.4 percent a year ago, and Massachusetts remained below the August national average of 8.1 percent.

In addition to the preliminary job losses for August, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics revised downward job gains in the state for the previous month. The new figures show an increase of 300 jobs in July, compared to an earlier preliminary estimate of 1,600 jobs gained during the month.

Alan Clayton-Matthews, an economist at Northeastern University, said Massachusetts has now experienced three consecutive months of slow or negative job growth, which isn’t surprising given weakness in the information technology market both domestically and abroad.

Clayton-Matthews also noted that merchandise exports from Massachusetts were down 3.4 percent over the first six months of 2012 compared to a year ago, while exports nationally have risen.

“That difference reflects our much larger dependence on Europe as a trade partner than the nation as whole,” he said.

State officials said Massachusetts has still picked up 31,400 jobs since the beginning of the year, including slightly less than 30,000 private sector jobs.

In August, however, most sectors of the economy shed jobs, including education and health services; professional, scientific and business services; leisure and hospitality; and construction.

Manufacturing jobs remained unchanged during the month, while a slight gain in jobs was recorded in the financial activities sector. State government also added 2,500 jobs while local government lost 400 jobs.

Republicans seized on the latest jobs numbers to criticize Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, who has traveled extensively in recent months on behalf of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

“Instead of trying to unleash Massachusetts’ potential so the close to 219,000 unemployed or underemployed residents can get back to work, Governor Patrick is traipsing around the country playing chief surrogate for a president who doesn’t have a much better record of job creation or growth to run on himself,” said state Rep. Bradley Jones, the House minority leader, in a statement.

Patrick expressed confidence Thursday in a number of initiatives his administration has undertaken to spur job creation and boost industries in Massachusetts.

“This is not growing anywhere near as fast as I or anyone else would like, especially if you are one of the people still out of work,” Patrick said. “But we are pointed in the right direction.”

Clayton-Matthews said he didn’t consider the recent downward trend to be “dire,” but added it was too early to know if the state was headed for a long-term period of sluggish job growth. Massachusetts has outpaced the nation through most of the economic downturn.

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