Business & Economy

Vermont jobless rate ticks up for fourth straight month

Vermont’s monthly unemployment rate rose three-tenths of a percentage point to 4.4 percent in September. The national average dipped from 6.1 percent to 5.9 percent, but New England’s regional average rose.

In Vermont, September marked the fourth consecutive month of upticks.

Even with the state-level increase, Vermont’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country, now in eighth place. North Dakota tops the list with 2.8 percent. New Hampshire moved ahead of Vermont in seventh place, with 4.3 percent unemployment.

A year ago September, Vermont’s unemployment rate was 5.0 percent.

The percentages are seasonally adjusted estimates of how many people within the workforce are employed — not actual counts of how many are working or jobless.

Seasonal adjustments are statistical calculations used to improve comparison on a monthly basis. Without the tweak, Vermont’s unemployment rate in September was 4.2 percent.

Vermont’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped as low as 3 percent in April and May 2014.

Though a rise in unemployment rates is never welcome news, economist Tom Kavet said it’s not surprising.

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“It has ticked up for a few months, and that’s a concern,” Kavet said. “But it’s not like we believed it entirely when it was much lower.”

The seasonality of Vermont’s economy and the small sample size can create statistical quirks, he said. He thinks the rate’s current upward curve, even while the national rate is heading down, is somewhat of a correction.

That said, Kavet doesn’t anticipate the rate will continue climbing much longer, and he does not expect to see it meet or exceed the national rate, if that continues its downward path.

Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan said in the monthly jobs report that the uptick in unemployment follows recent seasonal trends.

“The rate is trending similar to last summer/early fall where Vermont saw a few months of increases that eventually leveled out and then trended downward,” Noonan said.

She also welcomed Monday’s news that GlobalFoundries intends to keep IBM’s Essex Junction plant open after it acquires IBM’s semiconductor business. Rumors of a sale had been ongoing for months, with neither company commenting to shed light on their intentions.

“It helps to reduce some of the anxiety that has been present and which may have been hampering the ongoing economic recovery,” Noonan said.

With about 4,000 employees — down from about 8,000 in 2001 — IBM currently is Vermont’s largest private employer.

what it means

One notable aspect of September’s data is that, compared to August, the estimated size of Vermont’s workforce did not change.

This news is either good, or just OK: It’s good that the number of eligible workers did not decline, as it generally has since 2009. But it would be better for the state’s total workforce to increase, as that would raise Vermont’s potential for productivity.

The static size of the workforce also makes it easier to directly compare the aggregate numbers of employed versus unemployed people. The survey samples indicate there were 1,000 fewer employed and 1,000 more unemployed Vermonters in September compared to August.

On this data point, observers as diverse as the Vermont Republican Party and the Public Assets Institute are less than sanguine.

“In September … the size of Vermont’s labor force did not change, while 1,000 people lost their jobs,” PAI said in a jobs brief on Tuesday.

“An additional one thousand Vermonters were added to the state’s unemployment roles last month,” Vermont GOP Chair Dave Sunderland said in a news release.

But Mat Barewicz, economic & labor market information chief at the Vermont Department of Labor, urged caution with such an interpretation.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that 1,000 Vermonters lost their jobs, he said. Barewicz said that later this week, a demographic breakdown of today’s numbers will offer more insights into how the labor market is shifting.

“One thousand people could have retired, and 1,000 could have graduated from college and now are looking for jobs,” Barewicz said.

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Hilary Niles

About Hilary

Hilary Niles joined VTDigger in June 2013 as data specialist and business reporter. She returns to New England from the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, where she completed her master's coursework. While there, she worked at Investigative Reporters & Editors and covered state and local government for radio, print and the Web. She’s been a researcher-in-residence at American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop in Washington, D.C.; a reporter and community radio program director in the New Hampshire; and, in Boston, a public radio producer. She studied English at the University of New Hampshire and documentary writing at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Maine.

Email: [email protected]

Follow Hilary on Twitter @nilesmedia

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