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May 22, 2020

Mass. unemployment rate reaches all-time high: 15.1%

Photo | Grant Welker Downtown Worcester's deadhorse hill restaurant is among those that have temporarily closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The flood of new unemployment claims made by hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts in the past few months have now made one more thing official: the state's highest monthly unemployment rate since records started being kept in 1976.

The state's unemployment rate in April was 15.1%, smashing the previous record of 10.3% in March 1976, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

All 10 employment sectors in Massachusetts saw drops. As expected, the industries hardest hit have been leisure and hospitality, where jobs were down 61%, construction, with jobs down 37%, and trade and transportation, with jobs declining 20%.

[Related: Mass. unemployment claims still spiking in finance, insurance & education industries]

New data released Friday put Massachusetts as 17th worst nationally among all states and Washington, D.C., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Worst was Nevada at 28.2%, reflecting that state's heavy reliance on tourism and industry events. Best was Connecticut at 7.9%.

April's numbers from the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development come immediately after Massachusetts was enjoying one of its best unemployment numbers. At 2.8%, its March unemployment rate was one of the country's best. 

The Massachusetts labor force was nearly 3.8 million in March, but the coronavirus pandemic dropped that number by 364,700, or nearly 10%. In the past year, the state has lost 638,000 jobs.

The labor force participation rate dropped to 60.3%, down from 67.5% a year prior.

State leaders are slowly reopening the state's economy now that coronavirus cases have been on a slow and largely steady pace of improvement in the last few weeks. Construction and manufacturing operations restarted on Monday in the first phase, which opened non-essential businesses where there isn't as much physical proximity, especially to the public.

By May 25, more businesses will be set to re-open including offices, laboratories, hair salons, barbershops and recreational marijuana retailers. Restaurants are not yet able to reopen for dine-in services but will be included in a second phase with expected limits on capacity to keep people appropriately distanced.

The national unemployment rate for April was 14.7%, the highest since during the Great Depression. Roughly 39 million workers have filed new unemployment claims nationally in the past nine weeks.

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