With all the COVID-19-related economic gloom and doom that’s hovered over Massachusetts these past several months, it’s refreshing that we can at last relay some slightly more encouraging news.
The state’s latest employment data showed that Massachusetts added 51,600 jobs in August, dropping the commonwealth’s jobless rate by almost one-third to 11.3%. That means we no longer have the dubious distinction of leading the nation in the percentage of people looking for work.
We’re now tied with New Mexico and the District of Columbia in 45th place. Nevada has taken over the bottom jobless position at 13.2%, followed closely by Rhode Island (12.8%), New York (12.5%), Hawaii (12.5%) and California (11.4%)
Though a considerable improvement over July’s nation-leading 16.2% jobless rate, Massachusetts still trails the national unemployment average, currently at 8.4%.
And of course, New Hampshire, which routinely cleans the commonwealth’s clock in virtually every economic metric, far outpaces its southern neighbor, coming in tied for 17th with North Carolina with a 6.5% jobless rate.
But in an attempt to accent the positive, according to data from the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, just about all of the 51,600 positions added in August came in the private sector, which reflects a slow but steadily improving business sentiment.
The largest gains occurred in education, health services, leisure and hospitality, trade, transportation and utilities, with only one of the industry groups tracked, the higher-paying financial services sector, reporting losses in August.
While it’s correct to point out Massachusetts had nowhere to go but up, these recent jobless numbers — in conjunction with continued low coronavirus infection rates — hopefully represent the harbinger of an economic rebound.
To further expand on this glass half-full theme, it appears that Massachusetts’ fiscal 2021 tax-collection deficit won’t be as severe as previously projected.
As in not as bad, but still bad enough to demand austerity measures throughout all levels of government.
Rather than the dire predictions of a $6 billion to $8 billion tax shortfall, legislative leaders now believe that figure will be closer to $5 billion — still a staggering figure.
That requires lawmakers and the governor to decide how much of the commonwealth’s $3.5 billion in cash reserves will be allocated to fill funding gaps. And since a further federal bailout seems unlikely anytime soon, there will be pressure on Beacon Hill to expend a considerable amount of that “rainy day” fund to meet financial obligations.
That will a key part of the discussion in the weeks ahead, when legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration prepare to submit and eventually pass a compromise version of a long-term budget that would carry the state through July of next year.
State government has been operating since the fiscal year began in July on interim budgets, the most recent being a more than $16.5 billion spending authorization that expires Oct. 31.
The governor’s pre-pandemic annual budget proposal filed in January called for $44.6 billion in spending in fiscal 2021, based on tax collections anticipated to grow by 2.8% to $31.15 billion.
However, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues recently told a group of business leaders he believes that tax collections will be down 15% to 18% in fiscal 2021.
No longer saddled with the country’s worst unemployment rate and likely digging out of a $5 billion revenue hole instead of an even larger crater.
That’s what currently passes for an upbeat fiscal picture in Massachusetts.