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A leading New England economist is suggesting that jobs in the region are shifting from leisure and hospitality to higher-paying industries, while job openings remain at “historic highs.”

Boston Federal Reserve Bank Vice President and economist Jeffrey Thompson said he’s concerned about whether the regional workforce can fill the jobs of growing industries. He characterized the New England workforce as highly educated, but with an aging population that is much older than the rest of the country.

Thompson was among presenters at a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conference about the Future of New England’s economy, examining the region’s strengths and challenges following Covid-19.

He said that while employment levels have returned to pre-pandemic levels, after dropping sharply during COVID-19, jobs have shifted from leisure and hospitality toward higher-wage industries, such as construction and professional and business services.

Other presenters talked about housing, what they termed as hybrid workers (those working at least in part from home), education, and that the workforce, through 2030 will be “constrained by the size of the labor force.”

Federal Reserve Bank President and Chief Operating Officer Susan M. Collins, while characterizing New England’s workforce as highly skilled and educated as a major asset, also said that smaller cities and rural areas are struggling with unemployment and “sustaining local schools and services. “She also noted the large racial wealth and education divide.

“The region’s economy is healthiest when it is providing opportunities for all to participate, contribute, and prosper,” she said. “If we are to move toward a more inclusive economy over time, the capacity for low-income places to adapt to economic change, which Working Places (a Boston Fed bank program) support, is ever more important.”

Thompson raised concerns about education and that less than half of eighth-grade students in New England are proficient in math and reading, and Black and Hispanic proficiency in these areas, is even lower. He said that would become an increasing problem as jobs require higher education and skill levels.

He also raised concerns about housing affordability, and that supplies are not increasing sufficiently to reduce housing costs.

Alan Clayton Matthews, an associate professor emeritus at Northeastern University said a Donahue Institute study shows employment growth slowing considerably by 2030. 

He too focused on housing demand, and how it could change if people continue to work from their homes.

Chrystal Kornegay, executive director of MassHousing, said the rise in the remote workforce could impact the “types of housing …we need (if more people work from home). “

In terms of healthcare, concerns were also raised about workforce problems among Boston healthcare providers.

Dr. Richard Nesto, chief medical officer at Beth Israel Lahey Health, noted that much of Massachusetts’ health care is concentrated in Boston.

“This concentration of care is producing huge workforce problems for us as we try to draw employees from outside Boston,” Nesto said.

He said in other states, rather than healthcare concentrated in a major city, they tend to have rings of hospitals throughout the state.

In Rhode Island, while major hospitals are located in Providence, community hospitals and neighborhood health centers are scattered throughout the state.

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.