Despite jump, Berkshire jobless rate down full point from last year

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PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire County unemployment rate traditionally increases in January, and this year was no exception.

The county's jobless rate jumped half a percentage point in January to 5.9 percent, the highest level in 10 months, according to figures released by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development on Tuesday.

The good news is that the Berkshire jobless rate is a full percentage point lower than the 6.9 percent registered in January 2015, and more than a point and a half lower than the 7.5 percent in January 2014.

Unemployment in the Berkshires had jumped at least a half percentage point in January each of the last three years.

"We always compare the year's January-to-January because it's more of a fair comparison," said Heather Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.

"When you look at the rate down a whole percentage point, it's pretty significant," she said. "It shows this January was a better time economically than last January."

The state unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, slightly below the national rate of 4.9 percent.

Spikes in the Berkshire unemployment rate typically occur in January because seasonal hiring ends, and many county businesses finish their fiscal years. Companies who find themselves in the latter situation often downsize in January by laying off personnel.

The local rate is expected to jump more than usual in February and March this year because of the number of local companies that are downsizing — or leaving the area like Macy's, Boulger said.

The Berkshires lost 1,000 jobs between December and January, a drop of 2.3 percent, which is slightly lower than the state average of 2.7 percent.

"Every region in Massachusetts lost jobs between December and January," Boulger said.

But the county also gained 900 jobs in the 12 month period ending in January, a jump of 2.2 percent. That number is higher than the state average of 1.4 percent over the same time span, according to the state figures.

As of Tuesday, there were 1,984 job openings in the Berkshires posted on JobQuest, and 1,064 job seekers, Boulger said.

"I think we're doing a better job of capturing the job situation," Boulger said. "We have stronger relations with unemployment offices and the career centers, and reposting job opportunities. We're strengthening our relations with the public and private sectors."

The number of Berkshire residents collecting jobless benefits increased by 306 in January to 3,863 workers, also the highest total in 10 months. The Berkshire labor force dropped by 359 workers to 65,178. The labor force has been above the 65,000 mark since November.

Unemployment also increased in the county's three labor market areas in January. The biggest jump occurred in the Great Barrington area, where the jobless rate went from 4.2 to 5.0 percent.

In the Berkshires' two cities, unemployment rose from 5.7 to 6 percent in Pittsfield, and from 7.7 to 8.1 percent in North Adams between December and January.

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

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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