The state labor statistics showing that Gloucester's recognized unemployment news has fallen to at least a four-year low of 6.3 percent for May certainly presents some valid signs of an improving local economy.
Beyond the jobless rate itself, hard data shows that the city gained a net 57 jobs between April and May — logical, when you consider that May slides into the summer season on Memorial Day Weekend. But it also shows a net gain of 290 jobs between May 2011 and the same month for this year, with 14,893 working as of May 31 compared to 14,193 at the end of May a year ago.
There remain, however, some numbers that should serve as red flags to anyone who thinks everything is somehow now economically one and dandy. The state's Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development indicates that Gloucester's workforce has declined — numbers that frankly don't add up when one considers that the May workforce is usually boosted by college students coming home for the summer, or new graduates entering the jobs market.
While Gloucester listed 15,536 in its workforce in April, that number had fallen to 15,458 in May. And, worse, the May figure is nearly 1,000 below the 16,429 recognized as being past of Gloucester's workforce.
Some analysts, including Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce CEO Robert Heidt, have noted in the past that those figures at least partly illustrate people who are unemployed, but whose jobless benefits have run out, meaning they're no longer accounted for in the current state reports. And if even half the 971 people who have dropped out of the city's workforce in the last 22 months are added to the 975 recognized as being unemployed as of May, that can paint a very different picture.
There's no question that a number of good things are happening on Gloucester's economic landscape — from a revitalized Gloucester Engineering celebrating its landmark 50th year, to job gains at an expanding Bomco Industries. But with other development opportunities still in limbo — notably the still-stagnant I-4, C-2 site, and a potential commercial use of the Fuller School building — it's important that Mayor Carolyn Kirk and other city officials keep economic development on Gloucester's front burner.
The latest job figures are good; they are not cause for celebration — or complacency.