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Pioneer’s new tool, called “COVID Unemployment Tracker,” provides an interactive look at how economic shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting jobs and lives across the state of Massachusetts.

Using weekly Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment insurance claim reports and labor force data, Applied Geographic Solutions, Inc., Thousand Oaks, California, has created an economic model that estimates up-to-date unemployment rates by Zip code in Massachusetts, and the results are striking. Pioneer’s COVID Unemployment Tracker presents these AGS estimates in graphic form.

Pioneer’s recent report, A Look at the Massachusetts Industries that Are Most Vulnerable Due to COVID-19, identified which geographic areas may be most severely affected by rising unemployment claims, depending on the makeup of municipal economies by industry. One key takeaway from this study was that regions, municipalities, and even zip codes would be uniquely affected by the shutdown. An additional finding articulated that due to the concentration of jobs in Hospitality, which has seen the highest number of unemployment claims since March 2020, municipalities in Western Massachusetts as well as on Cape Cod and surrounding Islands may experience some of the highest unemployment rates in the Commonwealth.

With the new insights provided by the COVID Unemployment Tracker, users can look at estimated unemployment rates by individual zip code, in many cases providing an additional layer of detail beyond the town or city level. This new analysis coincides with the projection from the previous study on vulnerable industries: the Western and Cape Cod regions of the state are experiencing a high density of unemployment hotspots. The following map, captured from the new tool, highlights regions experiencing the highest unemployment rates in shades of red.

Due to guidelines and closures in response to the coronavirus outbreak, unemployment statewide is experiencing historic highs. As of data from the week ended April 25, the total unemployment rate since mid-March is over 21 percent in all 14 counties, per the following breakout. The hardest-hit counties, each with 25 percent unemployment or higher, all fell in the Western Massachusetts or Cape Cod & Islands regions.

County Unemployment Rate
Barnstable 28.0%
Berkshire 27.9%
Bristol 25.4%
Dukes 26.6%
Essex 26.4%
Franklin 26.4%
Hampden 27.5%
Hampshire 27.1%
Middlesex 23.4%
Nantucket 27.9%
Norfolk 23.1%
Plymouth 24.9%
Suffolk 26.5%
Worcester 25.5%

A list of the fifteen hardest hit municipalities confirms this, revealing high unemployment hot spots across Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, Amherst-Springfield area, and Western Massachusetts. The following list provides information on the zip codes with highest unemployment rates, showing which areas within a municipality are experiencing severe effects from economic shutdowns. Such a list includes areas in the previous list, but also shows several hot spots in the Worcester and North Shore areas.

Unemployment Rate by Municipality, as of May 2
Municipality Unemployment Rate
Provincetown 33.8%
Lawrence 32.6%
Amherst 32.6%
Truro 31.8%
Holyoke 31.0%
Southbridge 30.8%
North Adams 30.7%
Yarmouth 30.5%
Gardner 30.1%
Fitchburg 30.1%
Eastham 29.9%
Springfield 29.7%
Cheshire 29.7%
Lynn 29.7%
Becket 29.5%

Unemployment Rate by Zip Code, as of May 2

Zip Code Town/Community Name Unemployment Rate
01003 Amherst 39.6%
01105 Springfield 36.5%
01840 Lawrence 36.5%
01103 Springfield 35.5%
02639 Dennis Port 34.3%
02652 North Truro 33.9%
01608 Worcester 33.8%
02657 Provincetown 33.8%
02601 Hyannis 33.6%
02128 Boston 33.3%
01063 Northampton 33.1%
01610 Worcester 33.1%
02673 West Yarmouth 32.9%
01841 Lawrence 32.9%
01901 Lynn 32.7%

By using this new unemployment tracking tool, users can identify areas that are most heavily affected by economic shutdown policies adopted in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the Commonwealth. These data provide many insights, but specifically one key conclusion: Massachusetts is experiencing a hemorrhaging of jobs not just in urban or “core” areas, like Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, but in rural and urban areas alike. This could be due to areas like Berkshire, Nantucket, and Barnstable Counties relying heavily on hospitality-related industries, as well as others deemed vulnerable because of the COVID-19 situation.

As Massachusetts continues to respond to the pandemic, it is important to have access to detailed data that provides a complete picture of the state, not just a general overview. In future policies that will be developed to raise the Commonwealth out of an economic shutdown and potential recession, using such detailed data is critical to attend to all communities across the state, not just certain regions or economic hubs.

Pioneer will continue to update this tool as new unemployment data becomes available, approximately every week. In addition, stay tuned for more content specific to certain regions across the Commonwealth.

The data in this tracker was provided by Applied Geographic Solutions, Inc. (AGS), of Thousand Oaks, California, according to their weekly release including estimates through May 2, 2020, and is presented with their written authorization. The methodology that AGS used to model this data is described here. Because the federal government does not report unemployment rates by ZIP code or community, and issues unemployment reports on a time-delayed basis, AGS has created an economic model to estimate real-time unemployment by state and municipality using a combination of federal employment sources. In its modeling, AGS uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics labor force by ZIP code and occupation; weekly state-by-state initial jobless claims by occupation; and monthly labor force publications that provide detailed unemployment estimates by state, and major metropolitan areas. AGS says this about its methodology: “On a weekly basis for the next several months, AGS will be creating and making available an updated, rolling weekly unemployment estimate at the block group, ZIP code, and county levels of geography. While we do not pretend to have “on the ground” information to support these estimates, our initial tests on the data to date suggest that our methodology is a reasonable one – we are focusing on the distribution of employment by occupation and using a series of estimates of vulnerability curves to simulate what is being reported at a national and state level.”