What Does Massachusetts’ Low Unemployment Rate Mean for the State’s Homeless?

This past August, the Massachusetts unemployment rate hit a substantial low, dropping from 4.1 percent in July to 3.9 percent—the lowest it has been in 15 years. With 5,900 jobs added last month, the last time the state’s jobless rate was this low was August 2001.

The added jobs were primarily in leisure and hospitality, education, health care and construction. According to Massachusetts’ Office of Labor and Workforce Development, there were 30,300 fewer unemployed residents and 73,000 more employed compared to August 2015. The number of Massachusetts residents filing for unemployment assistance has also dropped to 24,000—the lowest it has been since October 2000.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but the employment numbers are kind of the best news of the U.S. economy,” said Jeffrey Frankel, a John F. Kennedy School of Government professor at Harvard University. “Particularly within the last few years, they have set historical records for the number of consecutive months that job growth has been positive and for the number of jobs that have been created, which at this point is 15 million.”

According to the Boston Globe report, as the job markets tightens, wages are expected to increase more robustly. Median household income in Massachusetts rose by 2 percent in 2015, nearly half the national rate, according to data released by the Census Bureau.

“The greatest downside of the U.S. economy has been the inequality. Growth has gone overwhelmingly to the people at the top and that has been true for the last 15 years,” said Frankel. Last year was the first time there was strong improvement, according to Frankel, and the unemployment rate nationally is back down to what it was before the recession, which is 5.1 percent.

Despite the apparent economic improvements, the homelessness rate in Massachusetts shows no clear correlation. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 21,000 people were experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts during the January/February 2015 counting period. The numbers have shown little improvement over the past few years.

“We would advise people who are on the brink of homelessness to address their current barriers to employment,” Marjorie Nesin of the Boston Public Health Commission told Spare Change News via email. They run two paid, hands-on job-training programs, the Work Experience Program and The Serving Ourselves Program, along with an additional educational and employment program called Project Lighthouse.

The majority of the program’s graduates receive food services jobs and jobs in the social services, security, driving and construction fields. The Serving Ourselves Program specifically operates case-by-case to create an individualized service plan that can help participants set achievable goals. The program also has a “life skills training component” where clients learn skills such as time management, resume writing and interviewing skills.

“The combination of case management and life skills training allows clients to become ready for a competitive job search. Additionally, we would advise people who are job searching to utilize community resources such as local job fairs, free training programs and public libraries,” said Nesin.

Local organizations such as Friends of Boston’s Homeless help support the Boston Public Health Commission’s job training and education programs, and they alone graduate about 72 percent of their program’s participants. About 70 percent also obtain permanent housing.

“There are a lot of discouraged workers out there who have had a tough time,” said Professor Frankel. “But, I would say—which is the same way I felt in 2000—this is a really good time to look for a job, even if things have been discouraging in the past.”



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