The Oldest Workforces in US: Maine, Vermont, Conn. Top List

As The Wall Street Journal highlighted last week, nearly a third of unemployed workers in the US have been jobless for 52 weeks or more. That’s a sobering statistic on the national level, but it varies greatly from state to state.

Of New Jersey’s unemployed, a whopping 37.1% in June had been out of work for at least a year. North Dakota, as you might imagine, is faring substantially better — it has the lowest unemployment rate in the US, 3.9%, and just 7.1% of its jobless workers have been out of work for 52-plus weeks.

Why the big swings from state to state? Jobless benefits could be a factor, though most states with large shares of the long-term unemployed — outside New Jersey and perhaps others — offer jobless benefits below the national average. However, as the WSJ noted, “Older Americans who are out of work, particularly the highly educated, tend to have the longest stretches of unemployment. That may be one factor in New Jersey and Florida, both of which have older-than-average populations.”

We looked at the age of the workforce by state to see if states with a higher-than-average percentage of long-term unemployed also have a heavy concentration of older workers. There’s not a clear relationship in some cases. But sure enough, New Jersey — with the largest percentage of residents who have been unemployed a year or more — has the fourth-oldest workforce in the US.

Rhode Island, Connecticut and other states where 30%-plus of the unemployed have been out of a work for at least 52 weeks also figure prominently on our list, compiled using Census data.

Note: The table includes data for all available states from the Census’ LEHD program; use the search box to find particular states. No data was available for New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. All data is current as of second quarter 2010 except for Florida, which has data current as of third quarter 2009.

State % of Workforce Aged 45+ % of Workforce Aged 45-64 % of Workforce Aged 55+ % Unemployed 52+ weeks
Maine 48.3% 43.8% 22.6% 24.6%
Vermont 48.2% 43.4% 22.9% 18.2%
Connecticut 47.4% 42.3% 21.9% 32.4%
New Jersey 47.1% 41.8% 21.7% 37.1%
Pennsylvania 46.3% 41.6% 21.4% 26.0%
Montana 45.9% 41.4% 21.8% 21.1%
Rhode Island 45.8% 41.0% 21.1% 30.8%
Ohio 45.1% 41.1% 20.3% 29.0%
West Virginia 45.0% 41.0% 20.7% 22.5%
Wisconsin 44.7% 40.6% 19.9% 26.9%
Michigan 44.6% 41.1% 19.0% 36.0%
Maryland 44.4% 39.4% 20.4% 23.7%
New York 44.3% 39.8% 20.1% 27.7%
Iowa 44.3% 39.8% 20.7% 18.6%
Indiana 44.2% 40.0% 20.1% 31.4%
Delaware 44.2% 39.5% 20.0% 29.7%
Oregon 44.2% 40.0% 21.2% 31.2%
Virginia 44.0% 39.6% 19.8% 25.6%
Hawaii 44.0% 39.0% 20.9% 25.6%
Wyoming 43.9% 39.7% 20.6% 15.0%
Illinois 43.7% 39.1% 19.9% 33.8%
South Dakota 43.7% 38.9% 20.6% 13.0%
Kansas 43.6% 38.9% 20.3% 20.7%
Florida 43.5% 38.7% 19.7% 33.6%
New Mexico 43.5% 39.0% 20.1% 24.1%
Nebraska 43.4% 38.7% 20.5% 17.0%
Tennessee 43.3% 39.1% 19.7% 32.2%
South Carolina 43.3% 38.9% 19.9% 35.7%
Washington 43.3% 39.4% 19.8% 23.3%
North Carolina 43.2% 38.9% 19.4% 33.8%
Minnesota 43.1% 39.2% 19.0% 20.6%
Missouri 42.8% 38.5% 19.1% 22.3%
Alabama 42.6% 38.4% 18.9% 28.1%
Oklahoma 42.6% 37.7% 19.8% 14.4%
Nevada 42.4% 37.4% 19.7% 29.3%
Arkansas 42.3% 38.0% 19.1% 25.0%
Alaska 42.3% 39.6% 17.7% 13.8%
North Dakota 42.2% 37.9% 19.6% 7.1%
Mississippi 42.2% 38.2% 18.7% 25.5%
Colorado 41.9% 38.1% 18.7% 26.5%
California 41.8% 37.6% 18.6% 31.7%
Kentucky 41.7% 38.0% 18.0% 22.6%
Louisiana 41.6% 37.5% 18.5% 14.6%
Idaho 41.5% 37.7% 18.8% 20.6%
Georgia 41.3% 37.7% 17.7% 36.8%
Texas 40.8% 36.7% 17.9% 20.9%
Arizona 40.6% 36.6% 18.4% 31.4%
Utah 34.9% 31.4% 15.8% 22.8%
District of Columbia N/A N/A N/A 32.7%
Massachusetts N/A N/A N/A 29.9%
New Hampshire N/A N/A N/A 27.3%

Maine and Vermont have the oldest labor forces in the US, with more than 48% of workers at least 45 years old. But just 18.2% of Vermont’s unemployed have been out of a job for 52 or more weeks, while Maine is at 24.6%.

Utah, meanwhile, has by far the smallest percentage of 45-plus workers (34.9%), and 22.6% of its unemployed have been looking for work at least a year. Georgia is even a more extreme example of these two data points not always matching up: It has the fourth-youngest workforce in the nation (41.3% are 45-plus) and the second-largest share of long-term unemployed (36.8%).

Changes in Workforce Demographics

We also used Census data to see how the states with the oldest workforces in 2010 stood in 2001. Each state has seen a precipitous increase in 45-plus workers in the last decade, none more so than Vermont. Its segment of 45-plus workers has grown by nearly 11% since 2001. Maine’s 45-plus workforce has grown by 10.7%, and Connecticut’s, 9%. Even Utah’s, as shown in the chart, has grown by 6.3%.

Illustration by Mark Beauchamp

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