Massachusetts added 15,400 jobs in February, the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported today, as the unemployment rate edged off 0.1 percentage points to 8.2 percent. The state rate continues to be below the national (8.9 percent) and is down 0.6 percentage points from February 2010, but it has changed little in the past six months. For the year, jobs are up 33,500 overall, and 37,000 in the private sector.
The preliminary estimates show employment gains in Education and Health Services; Leisure and Hospitality; Professional, Scientific, and Business Services; Other Services; Trade, Transportation, and Utilities and Financial Activities; while Manufacturing, Construction, and Government lost jobs. The total labor force was 3,501,600 – 3,213,400 residents employed and 288,200 unemployed. Since the unemployment rate peaked at 8.8 percent in October 2009, employment is up by 45,000 and unemployment down by 6,200.
The overall picture remains one of real, but disappointingly slow and halting progress on the employment front. The job growth in February is in those sectors where we would expect to see it as the economy comes back. But the vicious circle of a weak labor market contributing to low consumer confidence which restrains spending and discourages hiring continues. In Massachusetts and nationally, high nonwage costs of employment, especially for health benefits, remain a significant deterrent to job creation. And the new uncertainties arising from the disaster in Japan, with its complex economic ramifications, will not be helpful.
Another, much less significant source of uncertainty is the employment numbers themselves.
The monthly estimates are among the most current indicators we have of trends in the overall economy, but they have been markedly unstable and unreliable in this cycle. The benchmark revisions released earlier this month substantially altered our understanding of the course of recovery in Massachusetts and our state’s performance relative to the nation; and the February release revises January’s job creation down from 5,600 to 1,600. (This is in addition to issues arising from differences between the two separate surveys, of households and employers.) Even reduced to statistics, this recovery is elusive.