County unemployment drops to state rate
PITTSFIELD -- For the first time in seven months, Berkshire County's unemployment rate is on par with the state.
Berkshire unemployment dropped slightly in May to 5.8 percent -- the state's rate, according to figures released on Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Local unemployment had remained slightly above the state's rate since last November, when the figures were also the same. The national unemployment rate is 8.2 percent.
Heather Boulger, the chairwoman of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said having the state and local rates at the same level is a positive for the local economy as it heads into the summer tourist season.
"Coming out of the recession even with or above it is a good sign that we're evening out," she said.
Local unemployment has dropped every month since January when it jumped more than a percentage point to 8.1 percent. May's rate is more than a percentage point lower than the 7.2 percent registered in the Berkshires in May 2011.
Exactly 1,000 fewer Berk-shire residents are collecting unemployment compensation in the 12-month period that ended last month. According to the state, the number of unemployed workers in the Berkshires currently stands at 4,003. It has been below 5,000 since February.
"That's a good sign that it's going down," Boulger said.
The county's total labor force moved back over the 70,000 mark last month after falling to 69,442 in April. The number of employed workers in the Berkshires jumped by more than 1,000 to 66,478, the highest level so far this year.
A state jobs site lists 500 to 600 positions currently available in Berkshire County, Boulger said.
Total employment in the Pittsfield area improved by almost 1 percent between April and May, as 300 jobs were added to the local economy, according to the state. But Boulger said that growth is due mostly to seasonal hiring. Over the last 12 months, employment in the Pittsfield area has improved by 2.9 percent, the second highest increase among the 12 areas that the state provides estimates for.
Unemployment in the Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington labor market areas also dropped last month, with the jobless rate in South County falling half a percentage point to 4.1 percent.
"I think this is first time in a long time that all three statistical areas have all gone down from month to month," Boulger said. "It's showing that employers are having confidence throughout Berkshire County in hiring people."
Unemployment in the cities of North Adams and Pittsfield dropped slightly to 6.9 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively.
The jobless figures released on Tuesday are not seasonally adjusted, which means that they take into account short term employment such as construction jobs and positions in the travel and tourism industry.
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2012 (in percent)
May: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5.8
April: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6.1
Source: Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development
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