Mass. jobs recovery took a breather in February

The Massachusetts job market cooled in February as the state struggled with its COVID-19 vaccination campaign and many restrictions on businesses remained in place.

Job growth slowed and the labor force shrank, the Baker administration said on Friday, citing US Labor Department data. The unemployment rate fell 0.7 percentage points to 7.1 percent, but the decline was caused in part by nearly 28,000 people no longer being counted as part of the work force because they stopped looking for a job.

The state’s employment recovery lagged behind much of the country last month. Local employers added 14,100 jobs, down from a revised gain of 37,900 in January. Nationally, job growth accelerated in February and the jobless rate fell to 6.2 percent.

Economists expect the job market to gain strength throughout the year as widespread vaccinations allow states to ease up on social-distancing requirements and the federal government’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan juices growth. Still, at the average monthly pace of job creation since the lowest point in April , it will take Massachusetts another nine months to get payrolls back to pre-pandemic levels.

The local leisure and hospitality sector accounted for most of the new jobs last month, mirroring the national trend. Accommodation and travel businesses added 10,300 jobs. Professional and business services firms hired a net 9,400 workers, while the government sector shed 8,200 positions.

Employment data at the state level are often subject to significant revisions. Massachusetts is scheduled to release March numbers on April 16.

The state was one of the first to shut down when the coronavirus pandemic hit in the winter of 2020, and it has been slower than most in reopening. While that has kept unemployment here relatively high, the Massachusetts rate is lower than New York’s (8.9 percent) and Connecticut’s (8.5 percent).

Tourism-dependent Hawaii had the country’s highest unemployment rate in February at 9.2 percent. South Dakota and Utah had the lowest rates, at 2.9 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Employment payrolls in Massachusetts peaked in February 2020. Here’s a comparison of key labor market statistics then and 12 months later.

February 2020:

  • Jobless rate: 2.8 percent
  • Unemployed: 104,600
  • Payroll employment: 3.73 million
  • Participation rate: 66.4 percent

February 2021:

  • Jobless rate: 7.1 percent
  • Unemployed: 267,100
  • Payroll employment: 3.41 million
  • Participation rate: 66.3 percent

Larry Edelman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd.

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