Healthcare: Suffolk County’s Biggest Driver for Labor and Employment

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With Suffolk County being home to our capital, it has always been a leader in Massachusetts across a variety of sectors. Although the county has been a center for innovation, it still fell behind its counterparts in labor in the early 2000’s. Even with Boston, Suffolk County’s workforce could not keep up with nearby counties like Worcester and Essex.  More recently, that trend has been reversed.

Labor and Employment

Since 2007, Suffolk County has seen considerable growth in its labor force and employment, especially compared to other leading counties. In January 2007, the county ranked fourth among Massachusetts counties in terms of labor force and employment, behind Middlesex, Worcester, and Essex, respectively.

Figure 1: The change in employment and labor force numbers in Suffolk, Worcester, and Essex counties, 2007-2023

However, as of January, 2023, Suffolk County has jumped to second in both categories, surpassing Worcester and Essex counties, according to Pioneer Institute’s Labor Analytics tool. Suffolk county’s labor force grew by 92,837 in that period, outpacing Worcester’s 42,314 and Essex’s 51,556. Employment grew at a similar pace for Suffolk, gaining 95,732 participants, compared to 47,803 and 55,987 by Worcester and Essex counties, respectively. With Suffolk county experiencing a rise in labor over the past 15 or so years, what industry trends account for this phenomenon?

Healthcare Growth

Top-quality healthcare has long been among Massachusetts’ greatest assets, as our hospitals are widely considered among the best in the world. Boston, in particular, is renowned as a center for research excellence. 

Figure 2: The growth of healthcare establishments in Middlesex, Suffolk, Worcester, and Essex counties, 2004-2020

Suffolk County was a leader in these trends, growing immensely in establishments and employment. While most people see only the tangible benefits of healthcare in a practical sense, the rise of establishments and employment in this sector has been massive towards building up the state’s economy.

In recent years, the biggest labor force growth in the county was in healthcare and social assistance workers.  Using Pioneer Institute’s MassEconomix tool, we can see that establishments in that sector rose over 300 percent for Suffolk County from 2004 to 2020, while Middlesex, Worcester, and Essex counties hovered around 120 percent growth during that period. From 2004 to 2020, Suffolk County’s employed population in the healthcare and social assistance sector grew by 49.8 percent, growing faster than Middlesex (30.9 percent), Worcester (26 percent), and Essex (9 percent) counties.

Figure 3: Healthcare increase in employment in Middlesex, Suffolk, Worcester, and Essex counties, 2004-2020

The rise of healthcare establishments and employment directly contributed to the growth of Suffolk County’s economy. In that same time period, the GDP of Suffolk County rose around 112 percent, significantly outpacing Essex (59 percent) and Worcester (58 percent).

Figure 4: Massachusetts counties’ GDP from healthcare and social assistance, 2021. Source: Pioneer Institute’s MassEconomix tool


Boston and Suffolk County’s economic rise has to give credit to the healthcare sector’s employment and labor force. The sector’s development in the county has been crucial in helping Massachusetts’ economy, as well as its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although other sectors in Suffolk County have been doing well compared to other counties over the past 15 years, the healthcare and social assistance sector has been the leader. Boston will continue to lean on this sector as it hopes to continue to be a model for the commonwealth.


About the Author:

Teddy Wynn is a Roger Perry government transparency intern with the Pioneer Institute. He recently graduated from Hamilton College, earning a Bachelor’s degree in World Politics. Feel free to reach out via email, Linkedin, or write a letter to Pioneer’s Office in Boston.