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.