Worcester by the Numbers: How Hard the ‘Heart of the Commonwealth’ Has Been Pumping

Known to many as the “Heart of the Commonwealth,” Worcester has long been a stronghold in Massachusetts’ industrial economy. Worcester flourished with the growth of New England’s industry and struggled with its decline. Although Worcester is not the ‘mill city’ it once was, its rebirth as a (bio)medical, academic, and technological hub has redefined New England’s second largest city.

Worcester city-specific economic data are not tracked by the Federal Reserve, and some of the data tracked has since been discontinued, but data relating to Worcester County provide an interesting glimpse into the central Massachusetts demographic and how it has fared in recent years.

Unemployment Rate

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 3.28.54 PM.pngWorcester County’s unemployment rate (in blue) was higher than both Massachusetts and national averages at the start of 2007. This all changes, however, at the onset of the Financial Crisis and subsequent Great Recession. During this period, the national unemployment rate surpasses that of Worcester County and Massachusetts. Worcester County’s unemployment rate hovers in the middle ground between that of Massachusetts and the national average for years, occasionally closer to Massachusetts’ relatively low unemployment rate. This correlation is logical as Worcester county makes up a great deal of the Commonwealth’s population and labor force, so any discrepancies in this correlation raise the question of locale-specific factors affecting Worcester County unemployment. Massachusetts, however, does not constitute a large portion of the national labor force nor population; therefore, when Massachusetts’ unemployment rate fell at the start of 2016, it signals to state-specific factors that increased the employment in Massachusetts at a greater magnitude than it did for the United States as a whole.

Per Capita Personal Income

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 3.31.04 PM.png

Worcester County’s per capita personal income behaves similarly to the state and national measures, but is notably less than the Massachusetts’ per capita personal income and much more similar to the national amount. Worcester County’s per capita personal income never reaches within $5,000 of the state level but is always within $5,000 of the national level. The discrepancy between Worcester County (the second-most populous county in Massachusetts) and state-level personal incomes is certainly of note, signaling that the county may be a laggard on the state level, or perhaps one county (such as Boston-containing Suffolk) outperforms the rest of the state to lift the average.


Percent Change in Resident Population

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The annual percent change in resident populations for the sampled geographic regions never exceeds more than a .8% increase or .6% decrease, but it is interesting to note the discrepancies in data for Worcester County. The Worcester County data is more sensitive to population by the nature of it being the smallest population size of the three geographic regions sampled; however, it is interesting to note the fall in percent change of population from more than 0.4% to less than -0.4% in such a short period, only to quickly rebound.

Retain, Recruit, Incubate: Looking Forward

The city of Worcester is committed to its rebirth as a city that fosters innovation. Its urban renewal plan called “City Square” is transforming downtown Worcester to accommodate the office space, residential housing, and commerce that this new economy continues to bring. A joint report by the Progressive Policy Institute and TechNet has ranked Worcester as #8 in its list of emerging tech start-up hubs. StartUp Worcester, a program created by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, focuses on retaining the talent produced by local centers of higher learning who so often leave Worcester upon graduation, recruit outside talent, and incubating existing businesses through financial support and mentorships. With abandoned mills becoming loft apartments and modernized office space, the old and the new of Worcester are coming together as the city’s growing industries attract the talent and capital to grow the Worcester economy and close the gap between Worcester and much of Boston.


All economic data used in graphs is courtesy of https://fred.stlouisfed.org/

Image: https://www.heartsticker.com/products/massachusetts-love-sticker





2 thoughts on “Worcester by the Numbers: How Hard the ‘Heart of the Commonwealth’ Has Been Pumping

  1. jmcase18

    Luke, great post! You bring up an interesting point about the revitalization of old mill towns. Old mill towns seem to be most successful when they have a strong local community, access to a regional market, and are able to recruit new industries. Worcester seems to be recovering and reinventing itself and this comes as a result of its proximity to other cities including Boston and Providence, its role as an educational hub, and its increasing reputation as a medical hub. Worcester is doing better than many other former mill towns, like Lowell, and this seems to be as a result of its concerted effort to recruit and retain new industries and companies.

  2. Victor Matheson

    With respect to why Worcester lags the state in per capita income, you state “perhaps one county (such as Boston-containing Suffolk) outperforms the rest of the state to lift the average.” This is almost certainly the main reason.


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