Job loss rate rose sharply in January

By James O'Brien
Globe Correspondent / March 15, 2009
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January put any doubt to rest that the recession has arrived in the suburbs west of Boston.

Shielded against the downturn for most of 2008 by its high number of high-tech and professional jobs, the region saw a sharp drop in employment in January, according to state figures.

"We were insulated and buffered," said Paul F. Matthews, executive director at 495/MetroWest Corridor Partnership, a Westborough-based nonprofit that promotes economic development.

"But eventually, the international downturn was going to catch up with the major companies headquartered here. The fact that we're feeling it is not unexpected."

In January, the 13-community area that includes Framingham lost 1,798 jobs, more than the 1,590 jobs shed in all of 2008. The broader Boston-Cambridge-Quincy region, which includes 20 western communities, was down 18,860 in January. The area lost 19,372 last year. Through much of last year the jobless rate hovered around 4 percent in both areas.

But figures provided by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development show that the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in the Framingham area was 6.3 percent in January compared with 4 percent a year ago. The rate in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy area was 6.8 percent and 4.2 percent for January 2008.

Job losses were evident in the sectors that had kept the region from acutely suffering the effects of the downturn: professional, scientific, and business.

Statewide, the January unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, compared with 5.2 percent last year. The current rate was the highest since 1993. All but four of Globe West's 37 communities came in lower than the state average.

In Plainville, however, the unemployment rate was 9.7 percent in January. One month earlier, Plainville was at 7.1 percent and in January 2008 unemployment was 5.4 percent.

"Not a day goes by that I'm not talking to someone who's been laid off, or their spouse," said Joseph Fernandes, Plainville's town administrator. "I'm clearly hearing it more often."

Bellingham was next in line, with a 9.2 percent rate, up from 7 percent in December and 5.1 percent in January 2008. And Hudson and Milford both had an 8.1 percent unemployment rate in January.

Lincoln, on the other hand, showed a January unemployment rate of 4 percent, the lowest in the area. Weston and Dover were also on the low end of the range at 4.3 percent. Wellesley had 4.5 percent unemployed.

Matthews said differences in costs of living could be a reason for the variation between towns such as Lincoln and Plainville. Higher-paid executives tend to reside in communities such as Lincoln, where housing is expensive.

"Because of the substantial difference in housing prices . . . if you look at income in communities closer to Boston, it is indicative of people in very senior positions in business," Matthews said. He said that though unemployment rates showed "a lot of contraction across the spectrum, . . . it's clear people running the companies are not covered as much in those numbers."

The Framingham area lost 800 jobs in the professional, scientific, and business sectors between December and January, wiping out the 700 sector jobs added last year. And while some new scientific research and technology consulting jobs became available, the sector covering computer systems and design businesses in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy region lost 1,200 jobs between December and January, depleting the 1,300 jobs added in 2008.

Across the Framingham and Boston reporting areas, the government sector, which had gained 4,700 jobs in 2008, lost 1,700 in January. And education and healthcare, up by 19,000 jobs in 2008, shed 8,700 in January.

Some job sectors that lost ground last year continued to suffer. For example, across both regions, the financial and wholesale sectors, which dropped a combined 8,600 jobs last year, lost another 2,900 through the month of January. The Framingham labor market area includes Ashland, Berlin, Framingham, Holliston, Hopedale, Hopkinton, Hudson, Marlborough, Mendon, Milford, Natick, Southborough, and Upton.

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