Wednesday March 31, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County's unemployment rate dropped slightly in February, but remained in double-digit territory for the second straight month.

Local unemployment dipped to 10.1 percent last month, a drop of three-tenths of a percentage point from January's rate of 10.4 percent, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. January's jobless rate was the county's highest in 17 years.

This is the first time that Berkshire unemployment has remained in double figures over consecutive months since January, February and March of 1993.

"We're glad that it's going down," said Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. "But it's still nowhere near where we want it to be."

The county's unemployment rate is also slightly higher than February's state jobless rate of 10 percent. It's the first time Berkshire unemployment has been higher than the state's since March 2009. February's national unemployment rate is 10.4 percent.

The local numbers that the state released on Tuesday are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account short-term employment such as seasonal construction and retail jobs, or positions in the travel and tourism industry.

Boulger said February's unemployment rate was still subject to some of the seasonal fluctuations that normally create a spike in the percentage of jobless every January.


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But she said there are still six job-seekers in Berkshire County for every available position, which is "pretty consistent across the state as well."

"I personally was expecting a large increase in January," Boulger said. "I'm glad to see it came down slightly in February."

She continued, "Next month if it drops we're in a good trend. February is a good sign, but we'll just have to keep on monitoring this."

The number of unemployed in Berkshire County dropped by 161 workers in February to 7,351.

"It could be that they're not collecting unemployment insurance, or that they've found employment, or that they've given up completely trying to find a job," she said.

However, the local labor force increased by 290 workers to 72,773 employees, while the number of employed rose by 589 workers to 65,422.

"It's always a good sign when the labor force increases because it means more people are coming back to the area, or people who have had families are coming back to the workforce, like college students or stay-at-home moms," Boulger said. "The number of employed is a good trend for the first quarter of the financial year because some companies begin their fiscal year in January."

Statewide, unemployment decreased in 20 of the 22 labor market areas, including Pittsfield, North Adams, and Great Barrington. The rate dropped by a tenth of a percentage point in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and by more than half a percentage point in North Adams -- from 11.8 percent to 11.1 percent.

"I think it's pretty consistent with the rest of the numbers," said Boulger, comparing the drop in unemployment in the county's three labor market areas to the decreases in the rest of the state. "Great Barrington and North Adams get hit pretty hard when a company closes, but that hasn't been the case yet."