Jobless rates rise in most towns, but remain lower than early 2011

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Unemployment rates held steady or rose in  almost every town and city in the state in January, according to the  Executive Office of Labor and Workforce  Development.

Local jobless rates often rise in January, when holiday retail jobs dry up  and sectors such as leisure and hospitality slow down for winter, said Rena  Kottcamp, research director for the state Division  of Unemployment Assistance.

“This is a very highly seasonal time of the year,” she said.

That means seasonal factors could be to blame for at least part of January’s  increase. Local unemployment rates also ticked  upward from November to December last year, which the labor office also  blamed largely on seasonal ebbs and flows.

Only two towns – Gosnold and New Ashford – saw local unemployment drop from  December to January. Joblessness rose anywhere from a slight .2 percentage  points in Winchester to 3 points in Fall River and more than 5 points on  Nantucket.

But viewed in the longer term, local unemployment rates actually show continued,  gradual improvement, Kottcamp said.

Indeed, January’s  jobless rates were lower in most regions of the state when compared to the  same month a year earlier.

“It’s just that this recovery has been a little slower than others, both here  and in the rest of the nation,” Kottcamp said.

Compared to the same month in 2011, January 2012 jobless rates dropped in  307 towns and cities, a vast majority. Rates stayed the same in 11 communities  over the year and increased in 29.

A little less than half the towns whose jobless rates dropped over the  course of the year saw relatively large declines of a full percentage point or  more.

It’s worth noting that local unemployment rates differ from the most  commonly reported statewide  and national  jobless rates in an important way.

Local rates are not seasonally adjusted, which means they reflect seasonal  hirings and firings that labor statisticians typically try to factor out of  state and national rates in order to get at deeper underlying trends.

Before being seasonally adjusted, the statewide unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in January, up from 6.6 percent in December. After adjustment, the state’s unemployment rate was 6.9 percent in January, showing no change from December.

Overall, an estimated 264,500 people were counted as unemployed in January,  up from 226,000 in December, based on a state survey of households.

In a separate survey, the state said an estimated 3.1 million people were  employed in Massachusetts in January, down from 3.2 million in December.

The local jobless report came on the heels of news earlier this month that  the state  gained far fewer jobs in 2011 than originally estimated.

State labor officials originally said Massachusetts added about 40,000 jobs  in 2011, but a revised count released this month pegged the number at about  12,200.

State labor officials questioned the new count, which was compiled by the  federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile  four Senate Republicans have asked Auditor Suzanne Bump to review the  methodology for determining state employment figures.

There are still more positive signs for the state’s economy than negative,  said Michael Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts  Taxpayers Foundation.

He cited three months of improving national job numbers, as well as consumer  and business confidence indices that have picked up recently.

But the revised overall job figures for last year show the state is still a  long way from celebrating, Widmer said.

“I think what the revision highlights is the recovery here has been more  fragile and anemic than we had previously thought,” he said.

The state does seem to be making slow progress on unemployment, said Steve  Poftak, research director for the conservative Pioneer  Institute.

But after the year-end revision on jobs, it is less clear how many jobless  people are finding work and how many are leaving the workforce altogether, he  said.

“We need to be creating a lot more jobs overall, and I think that should be  everybody’s goal regardless of your ideological perspective,” Poftak said.

Also seen in MetroWest Daily News, Milford Daily News, The Harvard Post, and the Enterprise.