The profile of the Metro South/West reveals that the region's residents and its workforce have remarkably high levels of education, but looking forward, the region faces the demographic challenges of an aging population.
Released at June 26, 2012 summit in Framingham, the profile includes detailed data about Metro South/West's current and future labor supply, as well as information about labor demand in the region over the past decade.
Full profile (60 pages)
by Robert Clifford
Using the most recent data available, the Metro South/West Regional Labor Market Profile provides a detailed picture of the region’s current and future labor supply. For context, it also provides detailed information on labor demand in the region over the past decade. This profile is designed to help guide workforce development professionals, policy makers, and civic, education, and business leaders as they make decisions about education and training opportunities. The charts and analysis are divided into three sections:
Metro South/West has fared better than most other Massachusetts labor markets, despite a challenging decade. After two recessions and a decade of declining employment, the region is now gaining jobs and recovering at a modest pace. The recent recovery from the Great Recession has been somewhat stronger in the region than in the state as a whole. A strong base in industries that are driving the state’s recovery, such as Professional & Business Services, is helping to move the region ahead. Further, the concentration of highly educated employees within these industries is also benefiting the region. In fact, Metro South/West workers tend to have higher educational attainment than their statewide counterparts across nearly all occupations. There is still additional demand for highly educated workers, illustrated by the fact that the job vacancies in the region tend to be concentrated among occupations where workers have higher levels of education.
Both the region’s residents and its workforce (which includes people who commute from other regions and other states) have remarkably high levels of education. Massachusetts is one of the states with the most highly educated populations; the education levels of the residents in Metro South/West are even higher. Over the past decade, the share of people living in Metro South/West who have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher continued to increase. By 2008-2010, more than half of the working-age residents in Metro South/West (53.9 percent) had a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, compared with 35.6 percent of Massachusetts residents.
Looking forward, the region faces the demographic challenges of an aging population and potential shortfalls in workers with the required educational levels. Metro South/West is the one of the oldest regions in the state, trailing only Berkshire and Cape & Islands. In 2008-2010, nearly 50 percent of the region’s civilian labor force was 45 years of age or older. This suggests that the region’s businesses are facing a potential overall shortage of younger workers to replace baby boomers as they retire. Although nearly 18 percent of those unemployed in the region were aged 16-24, which is substantially lower than the share statewide, people in this age group are disproportionally overrepresented among the unemployed relative to their share of the civilian labor force. And while the region has a high level of residents with a Bachelor’s Degree, during the last decade the number of people with Some College education or an Associate’s Degree declined, suggesting potential future shortfalls in the number of workers well-suited for middle-skill jobs. Because the region is a major destination for commuters and a net importer of workers, some of these workforce challenges can be addressed by attracting people who commute into the region from other places. Relying on such mobility can have limitations, however, particularly in attracting people to work in jobs with low education requirements and low pay that are traditionally filled by less mobile populations.
To continue to foster strong economic growth in the future, Metro South/West should strive to align the education of its labor force to meet the demands of the region’s employers.
The higher education institutions in the region can play a key role in influencing the supply of future workers with a post-secondary degree. This supply will be critical to help meet the demographic challenges posed by the aging workforce and the increasing demand for highly educated workers. The national and state enrollment trends indicate that more individuals have been seeking post-secondary education over the last decade. However, enrollment at the educational institutions in Metro South/West is trailing that of institutions in Massachusetts and the United States, with the exception of full-time and part-time enrollment in two-year institutions. In terms of students completing a degree, the institutions in the region have, as a whole, trailed in the growth of most post-secondary degrees relative to Massachusetts. Because of this trend, the region has trailed Massachusetts and the United States in the growth of post-secondary educated graduates in nearly every major field of study.
Metro South/West’s labor market borders four regional labor markets: Boston/Metro North, Central Mass, Northeast, and Southeast. It is composed of 43 Massachusetts cities and towns in Norfolk and Middlesex counties. Some of the larger cities and towns are Newton, Framingham, Waltham, Brookline, Marlborough, Natick, and Franklin. In certain aspects of the analysis, such as the vacancy analysis and industry/occupational distributions, because of data limitations, Metro South/West is combined with Boston/Metro North and is referred to as the Greater Boston region. See the Geographic Definition Appendix for further details.
After reaching peak employment in 2001, employment in Massachusetts remained 5.0 percent (169,800 jobs) below peak at the end of 2011. In contrast, over the same time period, employment in the United States remained only 0.4 percent (513,700 jobs) below peak. In Massachusetts, the short national recession at the beginning of the decade created a prolonged contraction and slow recovery. By the start of the Great Recession, Massachusetts had still not recovered all of the jobs it had lost during the previous recession. In contrast, the nation experienced a shorter labor market contraction in 2001 followed by a strong recovery that expanded employment up until the Great Recession. The Great Recession impacted the nation severely, while Massachusetts experienced a less pronounced downturn, with a slightly stronger recovery through 2010 followed by slower employment growth in 2011.
These differences between Massachusetts and the United States over the economic cycles are important to keep in mind when evaluating the performance of the eight regional labor markets. When possible, these labor market profiles will look at labor market information for the beginning of the millennium, the period preceding the Great Recession, and the decline in and recovery from the Great Recession.