BOSTON — Massachusetts employers added 8,700 jobs in March, the third straight month of growth, helping reduce the unemployment rate to 6.5 percent, according to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and released yesterday by Gov. Deval Patrick's administration.
The March gains bring to 29,800 the number of jobs added through the first three months of 2012, although officials revised February job totals to show that employers added 900 fewer jobs in February than previously reported.
The state unemployment rate fell sharply from 6.9 percent in February to 6.5 percent, according to the numbers compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, putting Massachusetts well below the national average of 8.2 percent. Roughly 225,000 Bay Staters remain unemployed, about 70,000 more than when Patrick took office prior to the national recession that ushered in sharp job losses across the country.
The March numbers were welcome news for the Patrick administration, which had been on the defensive since last month, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised long-term jobs figures and reported that Massachusetts gained far fewer jobs in 2011 than previously reported. Administration officials distanced themselves from the revised numbers, questioning the bureau's methodology and insisting that other metrics indicated that economy was growing.
Five of the 10 private sectors measured by the bureau added jobs in March, with the largest gains coming in professional, scientific and business services — a sector that the governor has argued reflects some of the state's growing knowledge industries, like life sciences and biotech — trade, transportation, and utilities; and education and health services. The construction industry lost 700 jobs, while leisure and hospitality also lost 600 jobs.
In March, 11,900 fewer residents were unemployed, while 7,400 residents found jobs. The number of employed residents in Massachusetts grew to 3,227,600, the highest total since January 2009, according to the Patrick administration.
The news came a day after University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute MassBenchmarks report found that Bay State employers had added 38,900 jobs over the first nine months of 2011, substantially more than the 2,300 added jobs previously estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The revised jobs picture from UMass, which was based on more up-to-date pay data, helped to substantiate the claims made by Patrick that the Massachusetts economy is rebounding faster than most other states. That position had been seriously undercut by the March report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We're hopeful every month when the new reports come out, but more to the point, we have to keep focused not just on the monthly reports but on the work that has to be done and that is creating jobs and creating opportunity for people to build a better future," Patrick said Wednesday in advance of the jobs report.
Republicans had been highly critical of Patrick after it was suggested that job growth in the commonwealth had been substantially slower than once believed, and they welcomed the positive news, but said more can and should be done to put people back to work.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones called it "aggravating" that House Republicans had filed a jobs package earlier this year that has still not gained traction in the Legislature.
"Let's try to find common ground with the governor. Neither of us is happy or thinks it's good enough. Let's start figuring what more we could, should and can do to make wherever we are better," he told the News Service on Wednesday.
Despite the growth in jobs and increase in employment, the report showed that 226,100 people in Massachusetts are still without a job.
Government lost 200 jobs in March mostly on the local level, with the federal government adding 100 jobs in the state, resulting in state government employment remaining unchanged. Local government lost 300 jobs.
According to the newly released data, the information sector lost 100 jobs in March and financial activities lost 300 jobs, while manufacturing added 300 jobs.