25 Investigates: Massachusetts unemployment recovery remains slow and uneven

25 Investigates: Massachusetts unemployment recovery remains slow and uneven

BOSTON — Isaiah Hunt, an engaged father from Dorchester, lost his job as a school van driver in late March when Massachusetts schools were ordered to close to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus

The private transportation company Hunt drives for called him back to work in August, but he said his hours have been cut in half due to restrictions placed on student transportation.

“This year, we will only be getting 20 hours instead of 40 due to the new stipulation that you’re going to have one student in the van at a time,” Hunt told 25 Investigates reporter Ted Daniel.

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Hunt is eligible to collect state unemployment assistance as a part-time worker, but he said the benefits are far less than what he used to earn every two weeks in his paycheck as a full-time worker.

“My normal check is $1,000 but I’m only getting $260 in benefits," said Hunt. “It’s not the same, I used to be able to save money and now I’m living paycheck to paycheck.”

25 Investigates: Massachusetts unemployment recovery remains slow and uneven

Massachusetts no longer has the highest unemployment rate in the country after holding that distinction for two straight months. The state’s unemployment rate fell 4.9 percentage points in August to 11.3%, according to data released Friday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compared to the national unemployment rate of 8.4%, Massachusetts continues to lag. The Commonwealth is one of only seven states with an unemployment rate above 10%.

“I think the economy is in a very perilous position,” said Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, an economics professor at Boston College.

Sanzenbacher said economic data shows high wage earners and people who’ve been able to do their jobs remotely have been spared the worst of the economic downturn. In fact, he believes the recession may be nearing an end for upper-income workers.

But he says it’s a different story for low wage workers and people in the service, retail, entertainment and travel industry.

“I think that’s what’s made this particular recession, so damaging, is that it’s really targeted workers who were already vulnerable in the first place,” said Sanzenbacher.

Sara Marino, an office administrator from Foxboro, recently started working again after she lost her job as an office administrator at a national flower delivery company in March.

It took nearly six months and dozens of applications before Marino finally matched with an accounting firm in Norwood.

“It humbles you, a lot. It’s just constantly applying and applying for jobs. I don’t take it as personally when I don’t get a call. A lot of the good jobs have many applicants,” Marino said.

Data provided by Indeed, one of the nation’s largest online job search sites, show 32% fewer job postings in the Boston area compared to this time last year.

“What we’re seeing on Indeed, is that the trend and job postings in the Boston area is one of the top 10 hardest hit in the whole country. There’s been a bounce back, but it’s not as strong as the overall national average has been,” said Nick Bunker.

Economists tell 25 Investigates a second wave of infection could slow job growth, while a vaccine could help speed it up.

“In the long run, I think that the economy will probably get back to a decent state in you know, seven, eight, nine months if we can get a vaccine," Sanzenbacher said. “But I think in the short term, it’s crucial that we give people certainty, we give businesses certainty so they can spend money comfortably. If not, we’re going to see a pullback, and eventually, that’s going to affect more than just low-income workers.”


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