Jobs picture in Mass. brightens a bit

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Local unemployment rates fell or remained flat in about two-thirds of  Massachusetts towns and cities last month, according to estimates from the state  Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

February’s improvements came on the heels of a spike in local jobless  estimates in most regions in January. Local unemployment rates often peak in  January after the temporary jobs related to holiday shopping end.

Rates likely improved last month partly because contract jobs at colleges,  such as janitorial and food services, returned for the spring semester, said  Rena Kottcamp, research director for the state Division of Unemployment  Assistance.

“Generally, the rates should continue to show progress,” Kottcamp said.

The state measures unemployment in two ways. One version of the figures is  adjusted to remove seasonal ups and downs – a loss of tourism-related jobs seen  every fall, for example. The other set of figures is not seasonally  adjusted.

By either measure, unemployment remains down from a year earlier. February’s  adjusted jobless rate was 6.9 percent, unchanged from January, but down from 7.7  percent in February 2011. The unadjusted February jobless rate, released  Tuesday, was 7.5 percent, down from 7.7 percent in January and below February  2011’s rate of 8.2 percent.

Local unemployment estimates are not seasonally adjusted. Jobless rates  declined in 16 regions tracked by the state and held steady in two – in the  Merrimack Valley and in western Massachusetts. Joblessness rose in four other  regions: the Lawrence area, Greater Fall River and on Nantucket and Martha’s  Vineyard.

Unemployment rates remained in double digits in many Cape Cod communities,  as well as in Fall River, Gloucester and Somerset.

Overall, the state’s jobs numbers appear to be moving in a good direction,  said Steve Poftak, research director for the conservative Pioneer Institute.

But Poftak warned against reading jobs figures too closely. He recalled a  recent revision in employment statistics that found Massachusetts created far  fewer jobs last year than initially thought.

“I think paying too much attention to the monthly ups and downs will get you  in trouble,” he said.

Potential obstacles remain, including economic woes in Europe, where 40  percent of the Bay State’s exports go.

But the overall labor market appears to be getting stronger after weaknesses  last spring and summer, said Christian Weller, a professor of public policy and  affairs at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

“We’re now regaining momentum from where we were about a year ago,” Weller  said.

Also seen in The Enterprise, The Harvard Post, Herald News and The Bolton Common.