State house News – Massachusetts employers added a whopping 58,000 jobs in May, but the state unemployment rate remained one of the nation’s highest as most other states showed greater signs of economic recovery.
The month-over-month job gains more than doubled any previous record increase in Massachusetts dating back to at least 1990, according to federal data, but they still represent only a minor recovery from the historic 646,700 positions lost in April.
The latest batch of data shows that re-openings of some shuttered economic sectors in May brought scores of jobs back online, although the jobless rate is due to remain at elevated levels for an extended period due to COVID-19 and its myriad economic ramifications.
May’s unemployment rate in Massachusetts was 16.3 percent, the second month in a row that the state set a record. April’s original estimate of 15.1 percent was at the time the highest rate in the state since at least 1976, and federal labor officials revised the April figure to 16.2 percent in Friday’s release.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics deemed the one-tenth of a percentage point increase not statistically significant, Massachusetts was among a small group of states that did not show improvement in that metric.
Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia had lower unemployment rates in May than in April, eight others were stable, and just three states – Minnesota, Connecticut and Florida – had significant increases.
Only three states reported higher unemployment rates in May than Massachusetts: Nevada at 25.3 percent, Hawaii at 22.6 percent and Michigan at 21.2 percent. Rhode Island and California also reported rates of 16.3 percent, mirroring the Bay State.
Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped from 14.7 percent in April to 13.3 percent in May, according to a federal report earlier this month.
Michael Goodman, a MassBenchmarks co-editor and executive director of the UMass Dartmouth Public Policy Center, said Massachusetts may lag other states because of varying impacts of the COVID-19 outbreaks and a slower re-opening timeline.
“A number of other states have been much less careful in their re-opening plan, which may lead to rosier employment outcomes,” he said.
Raw jobs figures displayed a more positive change: total nonfarm payroll employment in Massachusetts increased to about 3.08 million in May, recovering 58,600 of the revised 646,700 jobs lost in April.
The largest gain was 17,400 new jobs in construction, which was one of the first industries given the green light to resume in May after most non-emergency operations were shut down for several months to limit spread of COVID-19.
Leisure and hospitality, which overall has been the hardest-hit field amid the mandatory closures, added 12,400 jobs in May but remains a quarter of a million positions below its employment total one year ago.
Most other industries other than information and government displayed slight gains in hiring last month, according to state data. Goodman said the Friday update included “some good news here that reflects the slow reopening of the state economy,” but cautioned that the long-term outlook remains unclear.
“I think in the coming months, we can expect additional sectors to participate in headcount reduction, particularly in state and local government if the fiscal picture doesn’t improve,” he said. “Another major concern for the private economy is what will happen to those employees currently being paid through the (federal) Payroll Protection Program when those funds expire.”