Governor Charlie Baker’s deliberate COVID-19 strategy — vaccinate first, reopen later — has brought the pandemic to heel, but the price has been a slow jobs recovery.
That may be about to change.
The jobless rate dipped to 6.5 percent from 6.7 percent in March.
Local payrolls are 8 percent below where they were in February 2020, just before the state went into lockdown. Nationally, payrolls are 5.4 percent under pre-pandemic levels, and the jobless rate was 6.1 percent in April, when job growth was significantly below forecasts.
It’s too soon to know whether states like Massachusetts, which shut down harder and longer than others, struck the right balance between public health and the economy. But with a full reopening set for May 29, hiring should pick up soon.
Help wanted signs are everywhere, and economists expect employers to have more success finding workers as life moves closer to normal in coming months.
There’s anecdotal evidence from employers that some people are choosing to collect enhanced federal jobless pay rather than go back to work. Republican governors in at least 22 states are ending those extra benefits in the hopes of getting people back to work. Some are offering back-to-work bonuses.
Baker hasn’t taken either step, though on Thursday the administration said it was ending its waiver of a requirement that residents prove they are looking for a job as a condition of getting unemployment, as of June 15.
The state’s job gains in April were led by the professional, scientific, and business services sector, which added 4,500 positions, and leisure and hospitality, which added 2,300 positions. Job losses were reported in the education and health industry, as well as in trade, transportation, and utilities.
In a bit of good news, the state’s labor force edged up by 1,900 to 3.75 million, and the share of the working-age population who were employed or unemployed but looking for work was up one-tenth of a percentage point at 66.4 percent.
Elsewhere in New England, Rhode Island’s jobless rate fell to 6.3 percent in April from 7 percent the prior month, the largest percentage point drop among all states. However, the improvement was caused by a shrinking labor force, and just 400 new jobs were added last month.
New Hampshire tied with Nebraska, South Dakota, and Utah for the lowest unemployment rate, 2.8 percent, while Vermont was at 2.9 percent. Connecticut’s jobless rate of 8.2 percent was the highest in the region.