Update: Berkshire unemployment drops significantly, despite hospital closure


PITTSFIELD - Despite the recent closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, Berkshire County's unemployment rate dropped almost a full percentage point in April, and is now at its lowest point in at least 12 months.

Local unemployment dropped to 6.3 percent in April from 7.1 percent the month before, according to figures released on Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

It's the first time the local unemployment rate has been below 7 percent since December, and is at its lowest point since it hit 6.5 percent last August. The Berkshire jobless rate was 6.8 percent in April 2013.

Berkshire unemployment is still higher than the state rate of 6.0 percent, but slightly lower than the national rate of 6.7 percent.

Heather Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said officials anticipated the rate would drop in April, but not this far.

She attributed the rate's total decline to a significant drop in the unemployment rates in the Pittsfield and Great Barrington labor market areas, which offset a slight increase in the North Adams area. The biggest drop occurred in the Pittsfield area, where the unemployment rate fell from 7.6 percent to 6.4 percent.

"That made up for some of it," Boulger said.

Although the closing of the hospital and a few affiliated agencies cost more than 500 jobs, Boulger said not everyone affected by the closing lost their jobs in April.

"Some people they kept on," she said.

The total number of North Adams Regional Hospital employees hired by Berkshire Medical Center is 143, BMC spokesman Michael Leary said on Tuesday. That total encompasses the Satellite Emergency Facility at the former NARH, Northern Berkshire OB/GYN, Northern Berkshire Family Medicine, Berkshire VNA and Hospice and support positions. BMC also hired four new employees last month, bringing the total to 147.

The county's total labor force dropped by more than 700 workers to 69,103 in April, the smallest number in at least a year.

"We're going to have to monitor over the next few months if people are leaving the area, or have stopped looking for a job," Boulger said.

As of Tuesday, the state's JobQuest website listed 1,635 open positions for Berkshire County, from entry-level jobs to skilled workers, she said.

To better assist the NARH workers who lost their jobs, Boulger said the Regional Employment Board is working with all of its partners to apply for national emergency grant money that will help those workers find employment in similar occupations.

"Over the next 30 days we will assess the people who use BerkshireWorks services," she said, adding that training could begin within 60 days.

The Pittsfield city and town area, which includes all of Berkshire County, gained 200 jobs between March and April, but has lost 300 positions over the last 12 months.

Unemployment in the city of North Adams dropped 1/10th of a percentage point to 8.3 percent in April, but the jobless rate in the city of Pittsfield fell by slightly over a percentage point to 6.5 percent.

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


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