Unemployment Inequality Is Stark In Massachusetts

By Phillip Martin

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Oct. 6, 2011

BOSTON — Many employment counselors in the state are emphasizing new training and education geared towards health and biotechnology. The industry has helped push Massachusetts ahead of 44 other states in terms of employment. But in recent days, economists are warning that even the high-tech and biotech engines are starting to slow down.

Gov. Deval Patrick says his administration is far from declaring victory in the war on joblessness. · "We know there’s still a lot of work to do for a lot of people who have been out of work for a long time or who have not been able to break into the workforce in the first place," Patrick said.

"That is particularly true for older people who’ve lost their jobs because there’s a tendency for them to leave the labor force and for very young people who’ve looked for a job for a while and they can’t find it, they tend to stop looking," Patrick said.

Economist Andrew Sum, of Northeastern University, says that is why true long-term unemployment in Massachusetts, and throughout the country, for that matter, is far greater than what the official unemployment rate tells us: How high might it actually be?

"Oh, at least 16 percent and maybe as high as 24," Sum said. "You’ll get areas of the state like Fall River where it’s almost 20 percent. You’ve got parts of the southeast, very bad. Parts of Springfield and Hamden, very tough. Lawrence is also above average," Sum said.

But, he adds, that's not the case in the whole state. "No surprise if you go to the Boston affluent suburbs there will be less because they contain a much larger share of college educated people who have lower unemployment rates," Sum said.

Gov. Patrick and others in this heavily democratic state argue that the only realistic way to push the unemployment rate down substantially is the jobs bill, recently offered by the President and in which many proposals have been endorsed, supported or even proposed in the past, by Republicans.

"The President’s plan through funding infrastructure projects is a classic tried and true solution and I hope that the Congress will step up and support it," Patrick said.

Andrew Sum of Northeastern University agrees and says the most desperate need for job creation is in Latino and Black communities. "Among black and unemployed workers, they are more than twice as likely to be underemployed as whites and their unemployment rate is pretty high. The underutilization rate, as I said is 16. For blacks and Hispanics, its 22," Sum said.

Jeremy Irving is one of those statistics.

In a meeting room at the Morningstar Baptist Church in Mattapan, Irving flashes an optimistic smile. He pushes his dreadlocks to the side as he speaks and says he is hopeful that his computer science degree will land him one of the 8,600 jobs that are projected to be added to the Massachusetts high tech economy over the next two decades.

"I got everything, from building networking software to hardware, anything you need that you’re working on, so that’s pretty much my background and for someone with my background I’d like to receive a job, though I know that things are still kind of bad," Irving said. "So I’m just waiting on that turn. Maybe next year things will look better. Maybe springtime will actually bring some flowers to the future for people that are looking for jobs."

A consensus of economists argue that springtime will only bring flowers if the U.S. Congress can agree to plant some seeds. But the partisan politics of Washington makes passage of any large scale stimulus package unlikely. And that could extend a long season of joblessness for many here in Massachusetts.

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