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Years after recession, Mass. job numbers finally bounce back

After almost five years since the recession hit the Commonwealth and the nation, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced March 26 that Massachusetts finally surpassed pre-recession employment levels in February.

Massachusetts’ seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates for February 2013 were down in 21 areas and up in one, according to a press release from the EOLWD.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate for February set unemployment at 6.8 percent, down from 7.4 percent in January, according to the release.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which was released Mar. 21, was at 6.5 percent, down from 6.7 percent in January, and estimates a 500 net gain of jobs in February, according to the release.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates are used to smooth out the data and eliminate the influx of recurring seasonal jobs that could affect employment numbers. Seasonally unadjusted rates see a rise and fall of jobs at various points throughout the year due to weather.

Kevin Franck, communications director at the EOLWD, said these statistics put Massachusetts back where it was economically before the recession hit.

“As of February, we now have more jobs in Massachusetts than we did when the recession hit, which was April 2008,” he said. “Job numbers started going down and for the first since then, we now have more jobs than at the peak of the recession.”

Despite the drop in unemployment, Franck said there are still issues that need to be addressed.

“We still have a lot of issues out there, especially with people who have been unemployed for a while and younger people looking for jobs,” he said. “Even though it is evident that Massachusetts is recovering and faster than other states.”

In February 2013, six areas in Massachusetts had job gains, but six others recorded a loss, according to seasonally adjusted job estimate statistics.

The Boston-Cambridge-Quincy area, for example, saw an increase of 2,200 people employed between February 2012 and February 2013, according to EOWLD employment statistics.

Franck said legislation over the years has helped Massachusetts recover from the recession faster than other states.

“It’s clear from the data that the Patrick-Murray administration has moved us forward, and we are recovering in a smart way that is good for all citizens of the Commonwealth,” he said. “They have been focusing on [various job sectors] to make sure the economy grows and we are now at the point for the plan to continue growing.”

But with the effects of sequestration cuts beginning throughout the country, Franck said this drop in unemployment might not last.

“The amount of uncertainty in the economy and Washington shakes people,” he said. “Sequester budget cuts haven’t been felt yet and we don’t know how that will affect jobs in Massachusetts. If we look at the trends the data show, the Patrick administration has helped the recession from being worse and hopefully we will keep moving forward.”

Kevin Lang, a professor of economics at Boston University, said while these statistics might be significant, they should be taken with some caution.

“I would not put a lot of faith in [the statistics],” he said. “Monthly figures have a lot of variation, and while the unemployment rate has been well below its peak for a number of months and the economy is picking up in Massachusetts, the impact could be a lot smaller.”

Randall Ellis, professor of economics at BU, said he expects the drop in the unemployment rate to proceed.

“I see them continuing,” he said. “No one-month change will be noticed, but over the past year many people have seen things get better.”

Ellis said less research funds for universities will hurt the economy in Massachusetts, but the amount spent on healthcare should balance the burden.

“The negative thing for Massachusetts is the decline in government spending on research,” he said, “but the positive aspect is that the increased health insurance coverage for other states should increase demand for medical care services, of which Massachusetts is an important leader.”

Lang said the Massachusetts government helped the unemployment statistics reach pre-recession levels.

“The fed has been doing a good job and keeping interest rates low,” he said. “Overall, the stimulus has played a role in getting us out of the recession, but the sequester, international economic problems and debt ceiling could negatively affect the recovery.”

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