Jobless rate falls, a first since ’07
Mass. figure 9.3%; many sectors hire
The state unemployment rate fell last month for the first time in nearly three years as Massachusetts employers added thousands of jobs, the clearest sign yet that the economic recovery is gaining strength, the state reported yesterday.
The job gains were broad based, spreading across sectors from retail to technology to financial services, and apparently strong enough to bring down the unemployment rate even as thousands more residents entered the labor market in search of work.
“It is hard to see anything bad in this,’’ Alan Clayton-Matthews, an economics professor at Northeastern University, said of the report.
Massachusetts employers expanded payrolls by 7,600 jobs in March, the largest monthly gain since May 2007, the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. The jobless rate slipped to 9.3 percent from 9.5 percent in February, the first decline since April 2007.
In addition, revised data showed that employers added 4,000 jobs in February, 2,500 more than first estimated.
The hiring rebound is the latest evidence the state economy is turning the corner, following the worst national recession in nearly 70 years.
On Wednesday, a Federal Reserve survey found that economic conditions were improving in New England as businesses reported rising demand, increasing sales, and even some hiring. Last month, Moody’s Economy.com, a respected forecasting firm in West Chester, Pa., estimated that Massachusetts began a recovery in January, based on its analysis of employment, industrial production, and other data.
“We are very encouraged and hope that this trend will move forward,’’ said Joanne Goldstein, the secretary of labor and workforce development.
Matter Communications Inc., a Newburyport public relations firm, is among the businesses that began to rebound at the end of last year. Its clients, which range from technology firms to consumer products companies, began to spend again, said Scott Signore, Matter’s chief executive, and over the past few months, revenues have grown at double-digit rates compared with the previous year. Now, he said, the firm is looking to expand its workforce of 36 by four positions.
“We’re back on our growth trajectory,’’ said Signore. “We’re going to have the need for additional bodies between now and the end of the year.’’
The rebound in Massachusetts labor markets follows solid job gains nationally, and the US unemployment rate appears to have peaked, holding at 9.7 percent for the past three months, after rising to 10.1 percent in October.
In Massachusetts, key sectors posted gains. Financial services added 1,800 jobs, the first monthly increase since October 2008, when stock and credit markets plunged following the collapse of Wall Street investment firm Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Professional and business services, which include a variety of technology, scientific, and research firms, added 1,600 jobs. Retailers, in a sign of rebounding consumer spending, added more than 2,000 jobs in March.
Tammy Sullivan, 28, of Roxbury, was out of work for nearly a year after getting laid off from a Dedham restaurant. She applied for retail and customer service jobs at more places than she could count, including a new supermarket at which more than 3,000 people applied for some 200 jobs. But two weeks ago, she was hired to work in the copy center of a Staples store in Dedham.
“I was so happy,’’ Sullivan said. “I was applying constantly. It was pretty hard.’’
The recovery has a long way to go to repair the damage of the recession. The state still has 155,000 fewer jobs than when the recession began here in March 2008, and more than 300,000 residents remain unemployed. Nationally, the Labor Department reported that first-time claims for jobless benefits rose unexpectedly last week to 484,000 from 460,000 the previous week.
Still, analysts said, the recovery appears to be gaining momentum.
“We’re not looking at spectacular growth, but we’re seeing new jobs being created,’’ said Andre Mayer, senior vice president for research at Associated Industries of Massachusetts. “This is what we needed to see.’’
Meanwhile, competition for skilled workers in fields such as technology appears to be increasing.
“We are not in a war for talent,’’ said Murray. “But it is tightening up.’’
Rachel Yaroschuk, 23, of Needham, who graduated from the University of Maryland last May, spent more than six months looking for a job. “I kept pressing, send, send, send,’’ she said, referring to the countless number of resumes she sent online.
Then, earlier this year, she was hired as a corporate communications associate at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Cambridge.
“I was so excited, I actually jumped up and down,’’ she said. “I felt really fortunate that it was a job that I really wanted.’’
Robert Gavin can be reached at email@example.com.