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State Economy Expands Robustly in Q2, UMass Journal Reports

AMHERST — Massachusetts real gross domestic product grew at an estimated annual rate of 5.4% in the second quarter of 2015 according to the MassBenchmarks Current Economic Index, released today by MassBenchmarks, the journal of the Massachusetts economy published by the UMass Donahue Institute in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. U.S. real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3%, according to the advance estimate of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Based on the latest available information, it’s estimated that, in the first quarter of 2015, the state economy expanded at a 2.1% annualized rate while the nation grew at a 0.6% annualized rate. In the second quarter, the state’s economy rebounded strongly from the weather-induced slowdown of the first quarter, with robust growth in employment and spending. Massachusetts payroll employment expanded at a 3.1% annual rate in the second quarter, nearly twice as fast as in the first quarter, when employment grew at a 1.7% annualized rate. Nationally, payroll employment grew at a 1.7% annual rate in the second quarter, down from 2.2% in the first quarter. The state’s unemployment rate fell from 4.8% in March to 4.6% in June, while the U.S. unemployment rate fell from 5.5% to 5.3% during the same period. The state’s unemployment rate has reached pre-recession levels. “The rising tide appears to finally be lifting the boats of the long-term unemployed, even though conditions for these workers remain difficult,” noted Dr. Alan Clayton-Matthews, MassBenchmarks senior contributing editor and associate professor of Economics and Public Policy at Northeastern University, who compiles and analyzes the Current and Leading Indexes. The broader U-6 measure of unemployment, which includes part-time workers who want full-time work and those who are unemployed but marginally attached to the labor force, declined significantly in the second quarter. “For the 12-month period ending in June, the Massachusetts U-6 rate fell to 10.4%, a 0.6-percentage-point drop from the 12-month period ending in March,” he noted. “In June, Current Population Survey-based estimates put the Massachusetts U-6 rate at 9.7%. The corresponding U.S. rate in June was 10.5%.” Massachusetts income and spending growth was also very strong in the second quarter. Based on withholding tax revenues, state wage and salary income in the second quarter grew at a 4.8% annual rate, following growth of 4.8% in the first quarter. Consumer and business spending on goods subject to the state’s regular sales and motor-vehicle sales tax increased dramatically in the aftermath of the snowiest winter on record. In the second quarter, spending grew at a whopping 19.3% annual rate, following 1.8% growth in the first quarter. The ability and willingness of households and businesses to spend reflects the underlying strength of the state economy and bodes well for future growth, the report asserts. The MassBenchmarks Leading Economic Index for June is 4.8%, and the three-month average for April through June is 5.0%. The leading index is a forecast of the growth in the current index over the next six months, expressed as an annual rate. Thus, it indicates that the economy is expected to grow at an annualized rate of 4.8% over the next six months (through December 2015), suggesting that the state’s solid economic performance will continue through the rest of the year. It is projecting real state gross-product growth of 5.1% in the third quarter and 4.8% in the fourth quarter. However, while the state economy appears to be in the midst of a solid economic expansion that positions the Commonwealth for solid future growth, risks to the outlook remain. Weak international economic conditions and geopolitical uncertainty continue to weigh heavily on the economic outlook for Massachusetts and the nation. The strong dollar, combined with sluggish growth in Europe and slowing growth in China, has had a significant impact on state and national exports. For the first five months of this year, Massachusetts merchandise exports are down 14.0% as compared to the first five months of 2014, while U.S. merchandise exports are down 5.2% during the same time period.

Markey, Delegation Call for Greater Access to Opioid Overdose Prevention Treatment

WASHINGTON — In a letter sent Wednesday to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and eight members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation called on the agency to take action to support broader access to the opioid-overdose-prevention treatment naloxone. There has been much documented success preventing fatalities with the use of naloxone by medical professionals and first responders, and there has been a recent movement to expand access to the overdose treatment for use by trained community and family members, who are most likely to be present during an opioid overdose. More than 1,000 people died of an opioid overdose last year in Massachusetts. The Mass. Department of Public Health (MDPH), which collects rescue reports on episodes where non-medical bystanders and community members use naloxone supplied by MDPH, has documented 5,000 rescues, with more than 1,000 of them reported in 2015 so far. Joining Markey on the letter are U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, Jim McGovern, Seth Moulton, William Keating, Joe Kennedy, and Richard Neal. “The routine practice of distributing naloxone or co-prescribing naloxone with prescriptions for opioid painkillers may help to get naloxone into households that may otherwise not have easy access to this life-saving antidote,” write the lawmakers in the letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “Thousands of Americans who are currently taking prescription opioid painkillers, whether legitimately for the treatment of pain or illicitly without doctor supervision, could potentially be saved from accidental overdose by having wider access to naloxone.” In the letter, the lawmakers call on HHS to explore issuing recommendations that could be used to institute best practices for co-prescribing naloxone with opioid painkillers and examine establishing demonstration programs, encouraging federally funded health centers to adopt policies for co-prescribing, and reducing payment barriers for naloxone coverage and reimbursement.

Home Sales Rise in June in Pioneer Valley

SPRINGFIELD — The Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley reported that single-family home sales in June were up 4.9% compared to the same time last year. The median price, meanwhile, dropped 1.5%, from $204,000 last year at this time to $201,000 this year, as first-time buyers continue to come into the market. The association reported that, across the Pioneer Valley, sales in June 2015 totaled 552, compared to 526 a year ago. In Hampden County, sales were up 11.4% over the same month last year (370 in 2015 and 332 in 2014), with the median price down 2.2%. In Hampshire County, meanwhile, sales remained the same (135 both years), with the median price down 4.6%. In Franklin County, though, sales were down 22% (42 in 2015 and 54 in 2014), and median prices were up 8.8%.

Unemployment Rates Rise in Most Areas

BOSTON — The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD) reported that seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates went down in two areas during the month of June and increased in 22 areas in the state. According to data from U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Nantucket and Vineyard Haven were the two areas where unadjusted unemployment rates dropped in June. Eleven of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded seasonal job gains in June, with the largest gains in Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Barnstable, Framingham, Pittsfield, and Lawrence-Methuen, as well as Salem, N.H. Compared to June 2014, unemployment rates are down in all labor markets measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The EOLWD also reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 4.6% for the second consecutive month. The unemployment rate is down 1.1% over the year. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 10,500-job gain in June and an over-the-year gain of 72,700 jobs.

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