The news that Gloucester’s unemployment rate for January had risen from a revised 8.7 percent in December to a January figure of 10.1 percent may not seem that unusual; Gloucester’s and other Cape Ann communities’ jobless rates are traditionally higher in January and February than in any other months of the year, given the seasonal nature of some aspects of our local economy.
But the figures represent a troubling trend on at least two counts.
One is that the city’s rate has now been higher than its rate for the corresponding year for two straight months after running consistently — and sometimes significantly — below the prior year’s figures for all of 2012 until November. The other is that the 10.1 percent figure marks the first time Gloucester’s unemployment rate has exceeded the 10 percent mark since February 2011 — during a time when the economy in Massachusetts and across much of the nation is supposedly on the rebound.
Those Gloucester jobless numbers are even more troubling when one considers that major local employers such as Varian Semiconductors/Applied Materials, Gloucester Engineering, Bomco Industries and Gorton’s have been adding jobs or are poised to do so. And the reason for at least part of the offset employment drop should be obvious: since the 2010 start of NOAA’s catch share management system, Gloucester’s fishing fleet has lost more than 25 boats, sidelining not only fishermen but crew workers and support industry personnel along the city’s waterfront.
That’s all the more frustrating since, while the federal government has recognized the Gloucester, New England and Northeast groundfishery as an economic disaster, it has also thus far failed to provide any relief for the industry — and the industry’s failure is due to NOAA’s and the Department of Commerce’s own policies. So much for the president’s push for “job, jobs, jobs.”
There are, of course, positive signs on the horizon. The City Council’s approval of permits for the Beauport Gloucester LLC hotel sets the stage for adding what development partners Sheree DeLorenzo and Jim Davis project to be up to 150 jobs when their 101-room hotel and related dining and function facilities are up and running. And prior to that, there will be additional jobs brought into the city through the construction of the hotel and the Fort infrastructure project that will essentially go hand-in-hand with it.
Throughout the hotel approval process, some critics of the Beauport Gloucester project have scoffed at the level of work the hotel and its ancillary components might provide. But jobs are jobs — and those critics should try preaching that flawed doctrine to the 1,631 city residents who were documented as unemployed in January — over 200 more than had been so the month before.
In that vein, let’s hope that all of those efforts give priority to Gloucester people and Gloucester workers, whether through construction sub-contracts or otherwise. The city needs these projects — and more like them.