Others had a more positive take on the jobs numbers.
“This was a pleasant surprise,” said Robert Nakosteen, a UMass Amherst economics professor and executive editor at Mass Benchmarks, who said the preliminary estimate was a “moderately strong jobs report.”
Nakosteen said he was particularly heartened by the growth of professional, scientific and business services, which he said were most at risk by recent federal budget cuts. He said he had hoped for a continuation of growth in the construction sector, which was relatively flat.
“I focus more on the jobs numbers than the unemployment rate,” said Nakosteen. He said, “I’m not really all that concerned that it’s now above the national rate.”
About 58,000 people in Massachusetts are scheduled to lose their federal unemployment benefits on Dec. 28 unless Congress extends the program, which costs roughly $25 billion per year. An unemployment extension was not included in the spending bill that cleared the U.S. House last Thursday and the U.S. Senate Wednesday evening. There were 245,700 unemployed residents in Massachusetts in November.
“I think Congress should certainly have a discussion and a debate about it,” Jones said, noting that money for unemployment insurance comes from the “employer community.”
Jones and House Speaker Robert DeLeo are of like mind that an increase in the minimum wage should be coupled with changes to unemployment insurance. Jones said lawmakers should look at shortening the amount of time that someone can receive benefits, changing the time it takes to qualify for benefits and should consider increasing the earned income tax credit.
“We’re costing the business community money,” said Jones.
The state’s unemployment rate last exceeded the national rate in May 2007, before the Great Recession, when the Massachusetts rate was 4.5 percent, or 0.1 percent above the rate of the nation as a whole.