December 23, 2017

Creating and destroying

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Sun graphic / Amy M. Capobianco

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

In 1990, roughly one in four Worcester County jobs were producing goods in the manufacturing sector, while one in 10 were providing services in education and health care. In the years since, educational and health services have taken over as the largest provider of jobs in the county — and manufacturing has tumbled by 50 percent.

It’s not just Worcester; manufacturing jobs have been disappearing nationwide as the United States shifts into a service-based economy. Nine percent of jobs nationwide are in manufacturing, down from 16 percent in 1990. The U.S. economy has also shifted many jobs into education and health services. In 1990, 7 percent of U.S. jobs were in education and health services; it’s 15 percent today.

Economies will often deconstruct old markets in order to free up resources in a process called “creative destruction.” It helps markets grow and evolve to meet the demands of a modern economy, but the process is difficult for many.

Worcester has lost manufacturing jobs across the board. Apparel manufacturing, which revives memories of large firms such as the Royal Worcester Corset Co., have disappeared completely. Fabricated metals and textile manufacturers have also cut their workforces by as much as 80 percent.

In place of manufacturing, Worcester has grown into new niches: Social assistance services have quadrupled since 1990. Both ambulatory services and education have doubled their number of workers. Changing from a goods to a service economy has been bumpy, and that will continue as the city risks leaving untrained workers behind.

Worcester County has lost tens of thousands of jobs in manufacturing, but there are still more than 30,000 manufacturing employees remaining. Evolving in the face of a fundamental shift in our national and local economies can be great for Worcester, but we shouldn’t forget that in order to create and grow, we also have to destroy.

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