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Mass. Unemployment Rate Rises To 17.4%, Worst In The Country

A server brought beverages to diners at Mother Anna’s in the North End in June. The reopening of restaurants and other businesses last month was not enough to lower the Massachusetts unemployment rate. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A server brought beverages to diners at Mother Anna’s in the North End in June. The reopening of restaurants and other businesses last month was not enough to lower the Massachusetts unemployment rate. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Massachusetts unemployment rate in June climbed to 17.4%, the highest in the country, even as some businesses in the state gradually reopened and rehired workers, according to federal data published Friday.

The state jobless rate increased 0.8 points from May's revised mark of 16.6%, which had been an all-time high. Massachusetts was one of five states in which unemployment rates rose in June; rates declined in 42 others.

The national unemployment rate is 11.1%.

Massachusetts has reopened more cautiously than many other states, frustrating some businesses. At the same time, Massachusetts has achieved one of the nation's lowest coronavirus transmission rates, while some states that reopened more aggressively are experiencing infection spikes.

Adjusting for seasonal employment trends, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the Massachusetts civilian labor force grew by about 130,000 people, or roughly 4%, in June, a sign that some workers did get back on the job or started looking for new work. The labor force tally includes both employed and unemployed people, but workers must be actively seeking jobs or expecting recalls to be counted as unemployed.

The ranks of the unemployed in Massachusetts swelled by almost 9%, to nearly 640,000 people last month.

The state labor force remains about 135,000 people, or 3.5%, smaller than it was in June 2019, which may indicate that some people who have lost jobs are not seeking new ones because of dim prospects. Were such people counted as unemployed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Massachusetts unemployment rate might be even higher.

"The unemployment rate is kind of a tricky index because if people stop looking for jobs, they disappear from the unemployment rate," said Greg Sullivan, research director at the Pioneer Institute, a right-leaning Boston think tank that had projected a June unemployment rate as high as 25%. "Many people have returned to work, that's the good news."

This article was originally published on July 17, 2020.

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Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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