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December Brings Cold Jobs Figures For Mass.

The state's unemployment rate has jumped to its highest in 15 years: to 6.9 percent — up one full percentage point in a single month, thanks to a slew of job losses in December.

WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports the sudden surge indicates that the recession is reaching more core sectors of the Massachusetts economy.

As 2008 drew to a close, so did Tony Nazaka's drafting work at a Boston architectural firm.

NAZAKA: From I'd say from August into December, my hours just kinda diminished and diminished.

Finally, last month, his boss let him go.

NAZAKA: He lives in like a $4 million building on the Fenway. But I think for him being a small business owner, he couldn't afford to pay me to just go in there and sit there and do nothing. I mean we had to have actual, like, jobs, and I had to bill clients basically.

The jobs weren't coming, and that's not too much of a surprise in a business related to housing and the hard-hit construction industry. But what's new in the state's December jobs report is that previously protected sectors of the Massachusetts economy are being pulled under, too.

ALAN CLAYTON-MATTHEWS: I'd characterize it the recession has fully come home to the state.

Alan Clayton-Matthews is an economist at the UMass Boston. He says just look at from where many of the nearly 17,000 job losses last month are coming. The sector that includes things like consulting and technical services — it lost 7,500 jobs in December. Health care lost almost a thousand, finance and insurance firms, 600. Those are bread-and-butter industries in Greater Boston.

SCOTT KEE: We're in a challenging economic environment.

That's Scott Kee, an executive at Sun Life Financial, one of the companies that's laying off workers in the state. He says revenue is harder to come by in this recession.

KEE: You have to operate in an environment where there are declining equity markets. There may not be the opportunities, there may not be the sales you normally do. The result is, we do have to lay off some people globally.

Though the global downturn is spreading to more Massachusetts industries, it appears some local companies might be jumping the gun a bit.

Clark Waterfall runs a Boston-based recruiting firm called BSG Team Ventures. It surveyed a few dozen Boston-area CEO's in IT and biotech and green energy — sectors that have been considered pretty hot.

WATERFALL: And it was incredible that more than 50 percent of the CEO's had already taken some action toward recession-proofing, rightsizing, downsizing, realignment, whatever metaphor or pseudonym you wish to use.

Waterfall chalks it up to lessons from the last downturn: the dot-com bust earlier this decade that caught a lot of people by surprise.

WATERFALL: It appears that there is amazing muscle memory. Um: yup, I remember it, I remember it well. Quick, to the firehose!

Larry Kahn of the Salem recruiting firm New Dimensions in Technology adds that the end of the year is normally a slow time for hiring. For some companies it's their close of the business year.

Put it all together, and the dismal drop in December jobs adds up to a sorry 2008 overall. The preliminary estimate is that Massachusetts lost almost 44,00 jobs last year.

This program aired on January 23, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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