Massachusetts jobless rate falls below 5 percent in February, month that saw record snow

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BOSTON — The unemployment rate in Massachusetts dropped two-tenths of a point to stand below 5 percent in February, a month in which the region was clobbered with record snowfall, the state's labor office reported Thursday.

Preliminary estimates showed a loss of 800 private sector jobs in February, yet the state still was able to post an overall gain of 800 jobs for the month as 1,600 jobs were added in the government sector.

The unemployment rate fell from 5.1 percent in January to 4.9 percent in February, marking the first time since March 2008 — seven years ago — that the rate was below 5 percent, according to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

The preliminary figures suggest that on an immediate basis, the winter onslaught did not have a major impact on employment. But other reports have pointed to the economic harm caused by the relentless series of storms that began in the last week of January.

A recent survey of employers conducted by several business groups, including the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, reported an average drop of 24 percent in sales and 7 percent in payroll from Jan. 26 to Feb. 22, compared with the same month in the previous year.

Officials have also cautioned that some weather-related effects could show up on a more delayed basis. For example, any noticeable drop in sales tax collections in February would likely be reflected in the March revenue figures that will be reported by the state next month.

Boston recorded 64.9 inches of snowfall in February, shattering the previous one-month snowfall record of 43.3 inches in January 2005. Residents have endured more than 108 inches over the entire winter season, also a record. The snow snarled traffic and brought public transportation to a near standstill at times.

The Massachusetts unemployment rate has fallen more than a full point over the last 12 months, having stood at 6 percent in February 2014. There were 34,400 fewer unemployed residents last month than in the same month the previous year, the labor office said.

One negative note in February's report was a downward revision in estimates for job growth in January. The revised figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showed an increase of 900 jobs from December, down from the previous estimated gain of 2,600 jobs.

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