Mass. jobless rate dips below 10%, but job growth slows locally

The state’s unemployment rate fell to 9.6% in September, according to federal data published Friday, though there are signs of more economic trouble ahead as Covid-19 cases rise in Massachusetts.

As reported by the Boston Business Journal, September marked the third consecutive month that the jobless rate has dropped, after hitting a record 17.7% in June. The revised rate for August, also released Friday, was 11.4%.

But job growth appears to be slowing. Massachusetts employers added an estimated 36,900 jobs in September, according to the new data, down significantly from the 62,500 added the previous month.

October has brought more concerning data. New unemployment claims in Massachusetts have increased for four straight weeks, according to the most recent figures. Last week, more than 39,000 residents made new jobless claims, the highest number since early June.

At this point, many of the state’s cities and towns are in the second step of the third phase of the Baker administration’s reopening plan. In those communities, only Phase 4 businesses — bars, amusement parks, large entertainment venues, and a handful of others — remain closed because of the coronavirus.

But some of the state’s major employment centers, most notably Boston, are stuck in the first step of the third phase because of local Covid-19 case counts. And in communities across Massachusetts, hotels, restaurants and many more businesses are seeing lower revenue even though their doors are open.

The state’s rate remains above the national unemployment rate last month, which was 7.9%.

Education and health services, followed by leisure and hospitality, are the sectors that added the most jobs in Massachusetts last month.

In commentary published earlier this week, economists at the journal MassBenchmarks raised questions about the reliability of state-level unemployment figures during the pandemic, saying the models used by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate state jobless rates “have produced some unusual highs and lows in the pandemic environment.”

Economists are urging caution in interpreting the jobs numbers, though they maintained they did not wish to minimize the significance of the state’s unemployment rate. “There is undoubtedly a continuing need for robust unemployment insurance benefits and other policies (e.g., emergency rental relief programs) to mitigate the economic hardships experienced by many in the state,” their editorial said.

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