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Somerville unemployment rate rises over summer months

Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 07:10


Tufts seniors planning to stay close to school after graduation and live in Somerville will enter a workforce with a rising unemployment rate, according to statistics recently released by the state.

Somerville’s rate of unemployment rose to 4.5 percent this summer from 3.8 percent in May, although the city continues to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the greater Boston area.

This increase is likely due to the seasonal adjustment that occurs during the summer, such as the influx of new graduates who enter the workforce, according to Somerville Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Stephen Mackey.

He added that compared to the national unemployment rate, which averaged 8.2 percent over the summer months, Somerville is doing relatively well on the employment front. 

“Even if [the unemployment rate is] 0.01 percent, it means there are some people out there that are suffering,” Mackey said. “But aside from the human story of any that are unemployed, the statistical story is often best viewed through a comparative lens
... in that regard and comparison, you have to draw favorable conclusions.”

In August, Somerville’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.3 percent from 4.5 percent. Only Winchester, Arlington and Cambridge had lower rates, at 4.0, 4.2 and 4.2, respectively.

Alison Harris, director of communications at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, provided a positive outlook, explaining that even with this summer’s spike, over the course of the last year Somerville’s unemployment rate has lowered.

“Over the year, the unemployment rate in Somerville is down 1.0 percent from 5.3 percent in August 2011,” Harris told the Daily in an email. “The estimated number of unemployed residents is down 431, while the estimated number of employed residents is up 819.” 

As the most densely populated city in New England, Somerville boasts a 34,000-member workforce that outnumbers its 21,000 available jobs, according to Mackey. The city’s largest employer is the City of Somerville, while Tufts University and Cambridge Health Alliance clock in second and third, respectively.

Despite its own limited job base, Somerville’s urban location near Boston has historically given its population closer access to major employers and opportunities, Mackey said.

“During the week, most of the people leave Somerville to go to work,” he said, pointing out that businesses in nearby Cambridge offer 100,000 jobs. 

Even so, Mackey said that Somerville continues to be viewed as a present and future small-business haven.

“That’s remarkable because it’s lived in the shadow of Boston and Cambridge,” Mackey said.

Many of the companies in Somerville related to technology, engineering and communications hire fewer than 100 employees, according to Mackey. Although these small businesses hold promise for college seniors on the job hunt, often only bigger companies are on the radars of graduating seniors, he added.

Ngonidzashe Madungwe, a senior chemical engineering major, said he would prefer a smaller work environment but does not know where to look for those job opportunities.

“The job listings I see are usually the big companies, the ones that are actually established and advertised,” Madungwe said. “I haven’t ever actually seen a local ad for a company in Somerville.”

Mackey noted that Somerville is still recovering from the 2001 and 2008 financial crises, like the rest of the region and nation. 

“It’s been a sluggish and worrisome recovery for some time now,” he said. 

Despite global economic challenges, Mackey maintains a positive outlook about employment options in Somerville and its surrounding neighborhoods.

“We believe that Boston and Cambridge will continue to be important places in the region and world economy, and that Somerville offers a 21st century work style and lifestyle that young people and entrepreneurs are searching for,” he said.

Director of Career Services Jean Papalia also expressed optimism about potential employment opportunities for Tufts’ graduating seniors, even beyond Somerville.

“Tufts graduates seek jobs across the country and throughout the world,” Papalia told the Daily in an email, adding that she believes the recent fluctuation in Somerville’s unemployment rate will not impact the class of 2013.

Madungwe said he would consider searching for a job in Somerville. 

“In terms of costs, staying away from the big city would be good,” he said. “Getting a job around here would be much easier in terms of commuting.”

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