The State of Working Massachusetts 2013


Five years after the start of the Great Recession, Massachusetts has levels of unemployment similar to that of the US as a whole. A statewide unemployment rate of 7.1 percent means that about 246,000 workers are actively seeking work but remain without jobs, while tens of thousands of others have given up the search entirely. For those Bay Staters experiencing the income loss and uncertainty that accompanies short or long-term unemployment, the impact of the Great Recession and its aftermath is both very real and deeply problematic.

During the great recession and for most of its aftermath, Massachusetts maintained a lower unemployment rate than the US. In November 2013, the national unemployment rate fell to a level slightly below the Massachusetts rate.

The overall lower rate of general unemployment that Massachusetts has maintained relative to other states, however, conceals the large disparities in unemployment rates experienced by different groups of workers within the Massachusetts economy. Massachusetts workers with lower levels of education have experienced much higher levels of both regular unemployment (unemployed for 26 weeks or less) and long-term unemployment (unemployed for more than 26 weeks) than have Massachusetts workers with more education.

Because educational attainment is closely correlated with annual earnings,1 these less-educated workers are very likely to be among the portion of the Massachusetts workforce with low incomes. They are also likely to have experienced little or no growth in earning power in recent decades (details here). As a result, the burdens of unemployment experienced by workers in the Bay State during this historic downturn have been borne disproportionately by those residents with the fewest personal financial resources upon which to draw. In 2012, (the most recent year for which data are available for both measures), the long-term unemployment rate for workers with only a high school degree was almost two and half times as high as the rate for workers with a B.A. degree or higher.

This pattern also holds true for workers experiencing a period of unemployment lasting for more than one year. During the last several years, a period of weak recovery, Massachusetts workers with lower levels of education experienced higher rates of unemployment that lasted over a year than did workers with college degrees or higher.

Looking at a broader measure of workers whose employment status has been negatively affected during the current downturn—a measure termed "underemployment"—it is similarly clear that rates among Massachusetts workers vary greatly by educational attainment. Once again, workers with low levels of education have been affected disproportionately, with underemployment rates almost four times higher than rates for workers with college degrees or higher.

Underemployed workers are defined by the U.S. Census bureau as: 1) unemployed workers, 2) workers who are working part time because full time opportunities are not available, and 3) workers defined as only "marginally attached" to the labor force. It does not include people who have quit seeking work altogether. The figures presented in the chart (below) for Massachusetts, however, do NOT include those workers defined as "marginally attached".

1 Berger, Noah and Fisher, Peter, A Well-Educated Workforce Is Key to State Prosperity", August 2013.