By Ray Lamont
---- — The city of Gloucester’s unemployment rate improved for the second straight month in March, but remains higher than the rate for the same month of a year ago, and is still 40 higher than the statewide rate, which remained steady.
The March figures released by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development have pegged Gloucester with an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent, down from the February rate of 9.9 percent but still running higher than the 9.3 percent rate the city recorded in March 2012. The rate is also significantly above the statewide March jobless rate of 6.8 percent, the same rate listed for February, and down slightly from the state’s March 2012 unemployment percentage of 6.9.
The city’s unemployment rate paralleled the course of jobless rates in Cape Ann’s three towns, with only Essex showing an increase in its jobless rate from 6.4 percent in February to 6.7 percent in March. The Essex March rate, however, also marks a 9 percent improvement from the town’s March 2012 jobless figure of 7.4 percent.
In the other towns:
Rockport posted a March unemployment rate of 8.2 percent, down from the 8.4 percent mark in February, yet, like Gloucester, up from a March 2012 rate of up 7.8 percent.
Manchester, now the only Cape Ann community with a jobless rate lower than the state’s, recorded a March unemployment figure of 5.6 percent, down from the town’s 6.3 percent rate in February, and from the 6.1 percent rate posted in March 2012.
While Gloucester’s hard numbers back up the rate change, showing an increase in the number of people working and a drop in the actual numbers of those unemployed, the latest state figures also show a decline in the city’s work force for the second straight month — a factor that has been touted by analysts as an economic red flag suggesting a drop in unemployment is not what it seems.
The state’s monthly Labor and Workforce Development reports — issued regularly for the state and for each of its counties in addition to for individual cities and towns — reflect federal Labor Department figures and are able to track only the number of people who are unemployed within the context of the recognized work force.
To that end, analysts have often raised concerns that a drop in an overall workforce figures can signify that, while more people remain unemployed, they have fallen off the unemployment benefit rolls and can no longer statistically tracked.
According to the Labor and Workforce Development figures, Gloucester’s documented labor force rose in December and January, but has now fallen again in February and March, from a February figure of 16,042 to 16,019. The city’s workforce numbers also slid for three straight months last summer, from June through August.
The state’s localized jobless and economic numbers do not, however, provide breakdowns by employment sectors, and Peter Webber, senior vice president of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, said some of those numbers appear strong.
“The indicators that we get regularly are more in the tourism sector — bookings and accommodations — and they are generally strong,” Webber said Monday. “Calls come here from people looking for early-on bookings and finding Columbus Day weekend, for example, filling up. So, certainly on the hotel side, there are a lot of good signs.”
The new state figures show that Gloucester’s number of people working rose to 14,486 in March from a February mark of 14,452, while the number of those unemployed fell from 1,590 to 1,533.
In Essex, the number of those who were jobless rose from 124 in February to 131 in March, even as the number of those working increased from 1,950 to 1,961.
In Manchester, the numbers of unemployed fell from 173 in February to 152 in March, with the number of those working rising from 2,557 to 2,563.
Rockport, meanwhile, reported 315 people unemployed, down from 322 in February, while the number of those working rose from 3,517 to 3,525.
The jobless rates for both Gloucester and Rockport also remained higher than the overall unemployment rate for Essex County, which came in at 7.1 for March. That’s the same rate as the county posted for February, though down from its 7.4 percent rate for March 2012. Lawrence again posted Essex County’s highest unemployment rate with a March mark of 15 percent.
The state’s highest March jobless rate was in Cape Cod’s Provincetown, which — still in its off-season — list a mark of 36.6 percent.
Gloucester’s fellow New England fishing capital, New Bedford, posted a March unemployment rate of 14 percent, with officials and workers there facing the same commercial fishing limits cuts as those in Gloucester the new fishing year, which begins Wednesday.
Times Editor Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3432, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.