fb-pixel Skip to main content

The Massachusetts unemployment rate plummeted to 2.9 percent in November, the lowest level since January 2001. Hundreds of thousands of workers have rejoined the labor force since the Great Recession, and some businesses, such as restaurants and health care providers, are now struggling to fill open positions.

But that headline number can obscure the underlying struggles facing many of the state's workers. The robustness of the recovery depends on where you live and your occupation. The percent of workers in part-time jobs or those discouraged from the labor force remains high, wages for many haven't kept up, and housing costs are eating up an increasingly larger share of incomes, leaving many of the state's families feeling financially pinched.


Here's a look at some of the data beyond the official 2.9 percent joblessness rate.

Who’s working

Many Massachusetts workers are still on the sidelines. The broader measure of unemployment that includes those who are working part-time but would like full-time work, as well as those who have given up entirely, was estimated to be 7.7 percent in November. If you're wondering why it doesn't feel like a 2001 economy, this might be one reason why. Back then, that more comprehensive unemployment rate was 4.9 percent.

Black and Hispanic workers are also still trying to catch up to this recovery, not just nationwide, but in Massachusetts, too. Their official unemployment rate is nearly double that of the overall statewide rate in Massachusetts. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington research organization, the unemployment rate for blacks at the beginning of the year — the latest data available — was 7 percent in Massachusetts; for Hispanics, it was 7.5 percent. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for Asians was 3.4 percent, and it was 3.8 percent for whites.

Massachusetts officials are increasingly focusing their efforts on those workers who aren't participating fully in this recovery. That includes those who have been unemployed for a prolonged period and whose skills might be rusty, as well as those who are disabled, have past drug use, or struggle with language issues.


What they’re earning

Paychecks have been slow to grow through much of this recovery. Incomes in Massachusetts rose by a paltry 2 percent — nearly half the national rate — from $69,223 in 2014 to $70,628 last year, according to the Census Bureau.

And the wage increases are not evenly distributed. Pay has risen much faster for professional workers than service employees.

While the average weekly paycheck for workers in the state's hotels and restaurants rose from $420 a week in 2010 to $477 in 2015 — a 14 percent increase — engineers, lawyers, and others in professional services saw their weekly wages increase by 17 percent during that same period, to $1,860 a week.

Where the money is going

Even with raises, some working families are struggling to keep up with the rising costs of mortgages and rents, particularly in Boston and surrounding communities.

The median sales price of a single-family home in Greater Boston was up 4.4 percent in October over last year to $541,000. Median condominium prices grew by 8.3 percent over the previous year to $487,455.

The rising prices mean that more area residents are spending bigger chunks of their paychecks on housing. In 1990, just 23 percent of middle-income households were spending 30 percent or more of their household income on housing, deemed a heavy burden. More recently, that has climbed to 36 percent of middle-income households, according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.


Deirdre Fernandes
can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.