PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshire County unemployment rate jumped more than half a percentage point in January to 7.5 percent, according to figures released by a state agency on Tuesday.
County unemployment had been 6.9 percent in December.
The local January rate is higher than the unseasonably adjusted state unemployment rate of 7.1 percent. The national unemployment rate is 6.6 percent.
There were 5,287 Berkshire residents collecting unemployment benefits in January, the highest number in 10 months. It was the first time the number of county residents collecting unemployment benefits had broken the 5,000 barrier since June.
Spikes in the local unemployment rate in January are typical because seasonal hiring ends, and many county firms complete their fiscal years. Companies in the latter position frequently downsize in January or lay off personnel.
Heather Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, characterized this January's spike as "pretty significant" because the local jobless rate rose more than half a percentage point.
"But if you look at a year ago, it's down significantly," she said, comparing this January's rate to the rate in January 2013, which was 8.3 percent.
"The fact that were down from a year ago shows that things are better," she said.
However, Boulger said the drop in Berkshire unemployment from last January is "no consolation" to the 5,200 county residents collecting unemployment benefits, many of whom do not have the job skills that employers are seeking.
Another indication of improvement, according to Boulger, is that unemployment in the Great Barrington and North Adams labor markets have both dropped more than 1 point from January 2013, although they are higher than they were in December.
"It's just showing more confidence in the economy and that employers are hiring," she said.
Boulger said county employment increased in January in the manufacturing, utilities, transportation, professional, scientific and technical services, education and health and leisure and hospitality sectors in January.
It decreased in construction, retail trade, finance and insurance, real estate and administrative support.
According to the figures released Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the total labor force in the Berkshires dropped slightly from December to January, but the number of employed county residents, 64,818, is at its lowest point since last March.
Unemployment in the Pittsfield labor market increased six-tenths of a percentage point to 7.9 percent in January, but is lower than the 8.3 percent registered in January 2013.
In the county's two cities, unemployment in Pittsfield increased slightly from 7.8 percent to 8.1 percent in January, while the jobless rate in North Adams jumped from 8.7 percent to 9.4 percent.
There were 1,422 job openings listed in the Berkshires on Tuesday on the state's JobQuest website, according to Boulger. She said the number has hovered between 1,200 and 1,400 for the past six months.
The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce will be holding a career fair on April 10 at Berkshire Hills Country Club in Pittsfield. A series of workshops will take place at the BerkshireWorks Career Center before that event.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
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