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Low unemployment rate, still economic division in jobs, study suggests

The national unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 2008, but the job market in Massachusetts has become severely polarized, according to a report published Monday by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

The report showed job creation in the Commonwealth is slower than it has been in years, with the wealthier and better educated consistently receiving available jobs while the poorer and less educated have seen fewer employment opportunities over the past decade.

“Unemployment isn’t what it used to be,” said Andrew Sum, economics professor at Northeastern and co-author of the report. “It’s a much different problem than it has been at any time in our history. The people that have been left behind, those that are unemployed or underemployed, are in a much worse position than they ever have, excepting the Great Depression.”

The unemployment rate for households with a total income less than $20,000 from 2012 to 2013 was 19.9 percent, according to the report. Comparatively, households with a total annual income greater than $150,000 had unemployment of 3.3 percent, according to the report.

The trend for education was also similar. For people who did not have a high school diploma or Graduation Equivalency Degree, the unemployment rate was 18.8 percent, while those with a master’s degree or higher had a 3 percent unemployment rate, according to the report.

Sum said one area not addressed in the report was the shift in job availability based on age.

“The group that’s been the most hard hit by this lack of job growth is people under 25,” he said. “It’s really taken a tremendous toll on the young, and they have not done a good job demanding more for themselves. They have to let their leaders know they have been let down, but until they make that case, nothing will change.”

This report comes a week after the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published data stating the national unemployment rate to be at 7.2 percent, the lowest point since November 2008.

The most recent data for Massachusetts published in September showed the unemployment rate equal to that average. The rate, while generally decreasing since 2010, has been on an upward trend in 2013, according to the statistics.

The release of unemployment statistics was delayed due to the government shutdown, which closed the BLS and all department activity.

Don Gillis, executive director of the Massachusetts Workforce Board Association, said overall, Massachusetts has seen a significant improvement in unemployment, but the divide between opportunities for rich and poor is still a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

“We have a growing divide between those who are working with high skills and those working in low-skill jobs,” he said. “Nationally and in the state, there needs to be a government investment where the private sector is not growing and there needs to be adequate access to education and training. There are two economies right now, with the higher end doing well and the middle and lower skills sector on the entire separate end. We need to bridge that gap.”

Several residents said they are content with the Commonwealth’s employment availability, but there is still room for improvement.

“The job market really seems to have gone up here [Boston],” said Tracy Santos, 31, resident of Boston. “Going back a couple years ago, it seems a lot more is available for a lot more people and the government can do more, but they’ve done a good job so far.”

Tyrone Colon, 19, resident of Roxbury, said jobs are available, but not for everyone.

“Connections to jobs makes everything so much easier and the job market is wide open if you have them, but if you don’t have a connection, it’s much, much harder to get a job,” he said. “A lot of young kids now just can’t get jobs anymore either. Even with a hookup, it’s just impossible sometimes.”

Kyle Hamilton, 26, resident of Dorchester, said motivation makes the difference in getting employed in Massachusetts.

“It’s really easy to get discouraged when you’re looking for a job here, but you just can’t let that get to you,” he said. “I understand it. After being unemployed for a month, I got really apathetic at times, but once you get started, you just have to do it. The jobs are out there. You just have to put a serious, full-time effort into getting a job, and it will come. It just won’t happen otherwise, not here.”

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