On the surface, the fact that Gloucester’s February jobless rate dipped back under the 10 percent mark — where it had been in January and where it has lived in both January and February in some recent winters past — should be seen as a good sign.
But there are a number of troubling signs within the latest figure reported by the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. And they run beyond the fact that Gloucester’s unemployment rate remains nearly 50 percent higher than the state average, and that the 9.9 percent rate is actually up once again from the 9.7 percent figure reported from the previous year.
Amid the other statistics, the February report — as noted in Monday’s Times — shows that the number of people counted as being in Gloucester’s documented workforce declined between January and February, as it did on a lesser scale in Cape Ann’s towns as well. And that’s significant, given that state and federal labor figures are based on federally-reported figures that can track only the number of unemployed within the context of the recognized work force.
As analysts have often noted, a decline in an overall workforce figures can often spotlight a gap in the reporting system — there is no statistical means of documenting people who are, in fact, still jobless, but who have fallen off the unemployment benefit rolls and are therefore no longer statistically tracked.
That’s a scary prospect, in that it clearly suggests Gloucester’s jobless rate is higher than the figures show. And it’s even scarier given that the so-called “day or reckoning” the city’s and New England’s groundfishing industry, as NOAA regional administrator John Bullard has termed it, threatens to sideline virtually all of the local groundfishing boats in just 2 1/2 weeks, with cuts of 77 percent in allowable Gulf of Maine cod landings and other dire cuts in other stocks as well due to take hold May 1.
All of this should indeed raised the urgency for Gloucester’s newly fortified development department — headed by former Salem city development manager Tom Daniel, and Harbor Development director Sara Garcia — to aggressively reach out to potential companies who have shown interest in coming to Gloucester, and to local firms who might be mulling expansion.
It should once again give city officials pause to once again consider pressing for an easement of state Designated Port Area restrictions along the waterfront, whether privately held sites on which current owners would consider expansion, and especially for the city’s I-4, C-2 site, where the DPA restrictions no doubt continue to scare away potential bidders. And it should once again show the need to examine what’s not happening along the waterfront, thanks to an albatross of a city Waterways Board that has still not opened up the harbor through allowing more moorings and providing more user-friendly land services for recreational boats.
With the May 1 fishing time frame looking, many have suggest that date marks a true crossroads for the industry in this city and elsewhere.
These labor numbers suggest Gloucester’s overall economy may be approaching that type of crossroads as well.