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Mass. unemployment rate evens out with national average

(Associated Press/FILE)

So much for bragging rights.

After years of outperforming the nation’s economy, the Massachusetts unemployment rate for July tied with the United States for the first time in nearly a decade.

The jobless rate in Massachusetts for July was 4.3 percent, the same as the US rate. As one of the most widely used economic measuring sticks, the state’s consistently low jobless rate was a powerful business and political marketing tool — until now.

“Most states would trade their economy’s conditions with Massachusetts’, but this is something that we’ve celebrated for a while and we lost one of our talking points,” said Mark Melnik, director of economic and public policy research at the UMass Donahue Institute.

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The state’s jobless rate has been creeping upward in recent months, while the US average was steadily falling. The Massachusetts rate for July did not change from the previous month, when it was also 4.3 percent, but the US jobless rate inched downward in July to the same as that of Massachusetts.

In December 2016, Massachusetts had the second lowest unemployment rate among states, at 2.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates at the time. By June 2017, it was tied for 30 with Oklahoma. In July, Rhode Island, which has long underperformed Massachusetts on many economic measures, drew even on unemployment at 4.3 percent.

Still, over the past year Massachusetts has seen an overall spike in job growth, adding 45,200 from July 2016 to July 2017; over the same period, the labor force participation rate — the pool of people looking for work — increased 1.5 percent. There’s reason for celebration, if not boasting, said Robert Nakosteen, economics professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“The unemployment rate is so low that there really is no room to be less than the national rate,” he said.

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And with employers reporting large numbers of open jobs going unfilled, the big problem for the state’s economy remains finding enough workers among the remaining unemployed who are qualified for skilled positions in the mostly high-tech economy.

“Although the unemployment rate remains low, we continue to see persistent gaps between the skill sets of available workers and the qualifications needed for in-demand jobs,” Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said in a statement.

In July Massachusetts reported losing 200 jobs in July, while the pool of people looking for work — the labor force participation rate — took a slight dip, according to the Executive Office and Labor and Workforce Development.


Lauren Feiner can be reached at lauren.feiner@globe.com. Follow her @lauren_feiner.