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Mass. jobless rate fell to 5.6% in May

Down from 6% in April

Massachusetts’ unemployment rate fell below 6 percent in May for the first time in nearly six years as the state economy continues to expand, the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday.

The unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent, from 6 percent in April, the lowest level since September 2008. The national unemployment rate last month was 6.3 percent.

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Massachusetts employers added 9,100 jobs in May, the greatest monthly gain since last fall. The state earlier this year surpassed the previous all-time high for employment reached in 2001 near the end of the dot-com boom.

“The jobs created number is especially strong,” said Michael Goodman, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants and hotels, led the job gains in Massachusetts in May, with 4,200 added. Education and health services, which includes universities and hospitals, contributed another 3,300 jobs. Financial services added 1,200.

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Only two of the ten sectors tracked by the state saw losses, with trade, transportation, and utilities shedding 900 jobs, and other services down 1,100 jobs.

Alan Clayton-Matthews, a Northeastern University economist, said the jobs gained in May are a continuation of “moderate growth” for the state. As people have begun working again, incomes have risen, households have paid down debt, and home prices have increased.

That has boosted consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity.

“We’re in the fifth year of the recovery now, and the employment growth in both the nation and in the state have been fairly steady,” Clayton-Matthews said. “Households are in a much better position and so it appears they’re spending.”

Meanwhile, economic drags — such as last year’s recession in Europe and federal budget cuts — have dissipated.

At least part of the decrease in the unemployment rate could be attributed to a drop in the labor force, made up of people working or seeking work. An estimated 3,800 Massachusetts residents left the labor force in May.

Goodman noted the drop, describing it as one reason to remain cautious. Many people leave the workforce when they are unable to find jobs after long searches. He also noted that most of the benefits of the economic recovery have been concentrated in Greater Boston and communities outside the area continue to struggle.

“This report masks some continued troubling imbalances,” he said.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at erin.ailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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