Mass. jobless rate drops to 8.9 percent in October

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2009 5:02 PM

The Massachusetts unemployment rate fell last month for the first time in nearly 2 1/2 years as the job market was spurred by expansion in the science, health and business services sectors.

The unemployment rate dropped to 8.9 percent in October, from 9.3 percent in September, according to statistics released Thursday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. It was first monthly decline since June 2007.

The drop comes just a month after the state unemployment rate hit its highest point since 1976.

Gov. Deval Patrick said Thursday he was pleased about the drop, but his optimism was tempered.

"It does indicate that we are going in the right direction, but by no means are we at our destination," he said.

The national unemployment rate for the same time period jumped from 9.8 percent to 10.2 percent, the first time it has reached double digits since 1982. The state jobless rate last October was 5.5 percent.

University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth public policy professor Michael Goodman said Thursday's report, which combines separate surveys, shouldn't be used to trumpet a turnaround, citing "mixed signals" _ including a statewide job loss of 900, but also a 1,500 gain in the labor force. But he said the report suggests the jobs market is stabilizing, when taken in the context of recent monthly ups and downs.

"That's not improvement, but it beats getting worse," Goodman said.

Most of the job growth last month was in the professional, scientific and business services sector, which added 4,100 jobs.

State officials say 1,500 jobs were added in the health care and social assistance sector. Even the struggling construction sector saw job growth _ 100 jobs _ for the first time since February, though the number of construction jobs in the state is down about 17 percent from October 2008.

The state also added about 1,000 federal government jobs, mostly new Census workers. That was largely offset by a 700-job loss in state government and a 100-job loss in local government.

About 2,300 jobs were lost in manufacturing, while retail lost about 700 jobs. Losses were also reported in the information, financial activities and transportation and utilities sectors.

Suzanne Bump, state Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, said future up-and-down fluctuations from the October unemployment rate wouldn't be surprising. She added, "The fact it has taken a step down that is of such magnitude, we take to be a very encouraging sign."

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Associated Press writer Mark Pratt contributed to this report.