Employment has risen across all counties except one.

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Employment has remained strong in Massachusetts. With labor force participation of 66.7 percent as of April 2022, 4 percent higher than the national average, and employment growth nearing 10 percent since 2004, the state has one of the best labor markets in the nation thanks to counties like Middlesex and Suffolk. 

But not all counties contribute to this success story.  As we begin to shift westward in Massachusetts, certain counties are far from the reality described above; one of them is Worcester.

So what’s going on in the county, and what’s the reason for it?


County Employment

Source: Pioneer Institute’s Masseconomix website

As shown in the chart above, all counties, save for one, have experienced employment growth since 2004. The exception being Worcester. In 2004, Worcester County employment stood at 371,880, and it fell to 361,389 in 2020.  More than 10,000 fewer people were employed in Worcester than had been a decade earlier. This accounts for a near 3 percent contraction in employment.

So what’s the reason for the drop?


Sector employment in Worcester County

Source: Pioneer Institute’s Masseconomix website

As shown in the image above, exactly half of the sectors in the county reported contractions in employment. 

Manufacturing has lost the most in the aggregate, with nearly 15,000 employees leaving the sector. This isn’t unique to Worcester County, though. According to the graph below, manufacturing jobs have been disappearing ever since the U.S. made the transition to more of a service-based economy. With both the state and nation reporting record contractions in manufacturing, the data suggest that this is a larger phenomenon, as state and national employment in this sector contracted nearly 30 percent and 15 percent, respectively.



Manufacturing employment comparisons at state, national, and county levels

Source: Pioneer Institute’s Masseconomix gc website, United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Worcester County has also seen a decline in employment in the finance and public administration sectors, about 27 percent and 32 percent, respectively – pretty much on par with the rest of the state. 

Manufacturing, finance, and public administration are among the sectors that saw the biggest employment declines in Worcester County. Labor economist Julia Pollak of the WBjournal stated, “Job growth came to a grinding halt in 2018 and 2019 in Worcester, even as it remained robust in most of the country.”

Despite the decline some sectors have faced, the county has found some new niches. Healthcare services, wholesale trade, and other services are some of the sectors that have seen growth in employment since 2004. Although employment in some of the historically stable sectors has contracted, other sectors like these niches may be potentially promising for the labor market. Hopefully, Worcester County will be able to build on these gains to reignite future job growth. 


Etelson Alcius is a roger perry transparency intern with the Pioneer Institute. He is a recent graduate of  Cathedral High School and incoming freshmen at the College of the Holy Cross, where he intends to double major in economics and computer science on a prelaw track. Feel free to reach out via email, linkedin, or write a letter to Pioneer’s Office in Boston.