On the surface, it's good to at least see Gloucester's unemployment rate once again fall below the 10 percent mark.
There is also no doubting that the February-to-March drop from a revised 10.1 percent to 8.6 percent represents a nearly 15 percent improvement — and that's nothing to sneeze at.
But it's notable that the city's jobless rate remains 33 percent above the statewide rate of 6.4 percent as outlined by the March statistics from the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. And it's important to keep in mind several factors that are buried deep within the state's numbers and methodology.
For starters, the March figures would likely not have accounted for the loss of some 110 jobs at Good Harbor Fillet, which was acquired by a global firm with a New Bedford subsidiary in January, but did not pull out its operations out of Gloucester's Blackburn Industrial Park until early April. Similarly, while a Boston-based firm had acquired North Atlantic Fish Co. in the Fort in April — with a plan to moves its 25 jobs to Boston — that actual shift has not happened yet, meaning a another pending job loss is on the table.
But the most significant aspect of the Gloucester unemployment statistics — like those for other Massachusetts communities — comes in the column showing that the city's workforce includes 15,703 people. That's down by 116 just since the February report showed 15,819 — and that points to trouble.
The idea of the city losing people from its workforce between those two months doesn't add up — especially considering this was a year in which some seasonal businesses got an early start due to the weather and the simultaneous early arrival of Easter and Passover the first weekend of April.
By many accounts — regionally and nationally — the loss of workers in a city's or state's labor force can be traced to workers who have lost their jobs, yet have now seen their unemployment benefits expire and therefore are not accounted for in any government statistics. To that end, any city the size of Gloucester losing 100 people from its recognized workforce is a red flag for any unemployment rate. That should give pause to anyone thinking the city — or the rest of Cape Ann — is out of any economic woods.
More telling numbers showing the need for a Gloucester economic development push are those with real faces behind them — the documented rise in services provided by programs such as Action Inc., The Open Door, and the more than 200 people who showed up with less than a week's notice for a jobs fair last month at the Elks lodge at Bass Rocks.
Yes, an 8.6 percent jobless rate is an improvement for Gloucester. And yes, the growth of local companies such as Bomco Industries, which is hiring a second shift, and Gorton's of Gloucester, which is expanding into a new production line, bode hope for the future.
But it also shows that, when it comes to pursuing jobs and economic development, this city has a long way to go — and the pursuit of new jobs and development must be a primary pursuit.
These are numbers the city must view with creative lenses — not rose-colored glasses.