Friday September 28, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County's labor force is getting older, while the region's workforce development is becoming stagnant because of fewer younger workers.

Those findings are among the data collected by two agencies examining labor market trends in the state's eight regional labor market areas. The Berkshire labor market area is the smallest and the only one being analyzed solely as a county.

Robert Clifford, a policy analyst for the New England Public Policy Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, presented Berkshire County's data Thursday at a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Country Club of Pittsfield. The Commonwealth Corp., a quasi-public entity within the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, is also participating in the project.

The data builds on regional labor market profiles compiled in 2008 by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies, and contains information over a three-year period through the fourth quarter of 2010, the most recent data available.

"The 2011 data actually comes out next month," Clifford said.

The findings include:

  • Berkshire County has the second-oldest workforce of any region in the state: 49.4 percent of the civilian labor force is 45 or older, while 23.5 percent is over 55.
  • While the number of workers 45 and older increased by 2.1 percent over the last decade, the report found that workforce stagnation occurred because the number of workers under the age of 44 dropped by 1.3 percent.
  • The number of workers in the Berkshires between the ages of 25 and 44 is falling faster than the rest of the state, and that's exacerbated by a drop in the county's overall population during the last 10 years.
  • County residents between the ages of 16 and 24 account for 29 percent of those unemployed, the highest percentage among any age group.

"It kind of puts the region ahead of the demographic curve [that exists] in some other New England labor markets, so it may be confronting these challenges earlier," Clifford said.

Berkshire County has had "somewhat of a slow but rough recovery from the Great Recession, and is trailing what is going on statewide," he said.

Berkshire Chamber of Com merce President and CEO Michael Supranowicz and Berk shire Regional Employ ment Board Executive Dir ector Heather Boulger said the data will allow their organizations to approach workforce development efforts with the county's younger professionals in a different way.

"It's great to have data like this because it helps us do what we need to do," Supranowicz said. "The data suggests to me that this is more serious than we actually thought."

The report also found that while education levels in Berkshire County increased over the last 10 years, they are well below those in the rest of Massachusetts, but similar to findings registered across the country. Berkshire is also the state's only regional labor market to see declines in the number of certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor's degrees that were completed over the past decade.

While the Berkshire workforce doesn't contain a large number of people with bachelor's degrees, Clifford said many county residents have attained "middle skills," a term he used to define those who have obtained an associate degree or some level of college education.

In the Berkshires, 12.7 percent of the working age population does not have a high school diploma, slightly lower than the state average of 13.9 percent. Clifford said 60 percent of the unemployed in the Berkshires have a high school diploma or less.

"The unemployed in the Berkshires are disproportionately younger and have lesser levels of educational attainment," Clifford said.

The entire report and appendices are available online at www.bostonfed.org/neppc.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224
On Twitter: @tonydobrow