PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County's unemployment rate remained virtually unchanged in February, except in the city of North Adams, where it dropped more than half a percentage point.

Unemployment in North Adams fell to 8.7 percent in February from 9.4 percent the previous month, according to state figures that were released on Tuesday morning.

The jobless rate in the Northern Berkshire labor market also declined significantly, falling to 7.9 percent from the 8.4 percent registered in January.

Those figures were released before Northern Berkshire Healthcare announced on Tuesday afternoon that it planned to close North Adams Regional Hospital and two affiliated agencies on Friday. Those three entities combined have 530 full and part-time employees.

The county's unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a percentage point in February to 7.4 percent. County unemployment was at 7.6 percent in February 2013.

State unemployment is at 6.8 percent, while the national unemployment rate is 6.7 percent.

In North Adams, the drop in the unemployment rate in February leaves the city at the same level that it was in December and November.

After jumping from 8.0 percent to 8.7 percent in November, the city's unemployment rate remained at that level until January when it rose to 9.4 percent.

Heather Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board, believes the situation in North Adams in February may have occurred because the 81 workers laid off by Steiner Film in Williamstown last August are nearing the end of their unemployment benefits, and may be looking for work.

"That could play into that a little bit," she said.

Referring to the slight drop in the county jobless rate in January, Boulger said, "we're glad to see the unemployment rate is going down even though it's very low.

"We're hopeful that the economy is beginning to pick up and people who might have been among the long term unemployed might be coming back to look for job opportunities.

"The fact that the entire county is below 8 percent is really good," Boulger added. "We always anticipate a January and February spike. We hope March and April will be significantly lower."

In the Pittsfield labor market area, the total labor force dropped by 100 workers between February 2013 and January 2014. But last month's unemployment rate was 7.9 percent, the same rate as January's. Unemployment in the Great Barrington labor market area dropped slightly in February to 5.7 percent. The unemployment rate in the city of Pittsfield dropped a tenth of a percentage point to 8.0 percent.
Countywide, the number of workers collecting jobless benefits dropped by 117 workers in February, but remained above 5,000 for the second straight month at 5,177. The county's total labor force, 70,312 workers, is at its highest level since October. The number of employed went back over the 65,000 mark in February after dropping slightly below it in January.

The figures released by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development on Tuesday are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account seasonal construction jobs and positions in the travel and tourism industry.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:

TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com

(413) 496-6224