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.
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.