BENNINGTON -- State labor force data has drawn out labor trends manifest of Bennington's economy. Bennington County's June unemployment rate was released in the Vermont Department of Labor's report on Friday, which at 4.5 percent, the rate displays a 0.7 rise over the May labor report.

The labor department only releases non-seasonally adjusted data at the local level, which when compared from year to year, shows signs of a dwindling labor force. The state gathers its labor information from employers and unemployment insurance data, and reflects jobs numbers more accurately than actual employment.

The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by the number considered to be in the labor force.

Data Source: Vermont Department of Labor
Data Source: Vermont Department of Labor (Tom Momberg)

A jump in the unemployment rate between May and June is not unusual. The number of individuals in the labor force increases at this time every year, likely due to construction workers, teachers and college students who might be counted in the labor force only during the summer.

Nevertheless, when compared to previous years, the number of individuals in the labor force are dwindling. U.S. Census Bureau population estimates might suggest that decline is partially due to a shrinking population, which was projected to decrease by 1.3 percent between 2010 and 2013.

In June 2012, Bennington County's labor force was estimated to be 20,250 at an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent. In June 2014, the county's labor force was estimated at 19,850 people.


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The unemployment rate is shrinking year to year, as is the labor force.

Since the county started feeling the effects of the nationwide economic recession in 2008, the number of employed individuals has gone down an average of 7.6 percent in the private sector.

Population serves as no true guide for why the local labor force is shrinking. Vermont Department of Labor's economic and labor market information chief, Mat Barewicz, suggested that labor force numbers are almost entirely driven demographically.

"A lot of people postponed their retirement during the recession," he said. "Once it improved, what you've seen is an influx of people leaving the workforce."

Since the baby boomers, whose generation consists of a large amount of the population, are headed into a late retirement, many of them are leaving the labor force at the same time.

Because Vermont is experiencing lower birth rates and there is a lower labor force participation rate among teenagers and college students, there are not many individuals to fill the retirees' places in the job market.

"If you aren't seeing many new people enter the labor force, then the only way to (boost the economy) is to attract people into the state."

Even though the county's unemployment rate has shrunk to 4.5 percent from what it was at the height of the recession in 2009 at 8.0 percent, those numbers give no actual indication of job creation.

Jack Hoffman, senior policy analyst for the Public Assets Institute, said the unemployment rate may not accurately reflect much of the working-age population that has dropped out of the workforce or given up looking for work.

"Even though the unemployment rate has gone down, the number of people actually employed is going down as well," Hoffman said.

There has, however, been a recent return in jobs numbers in Vermont according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Bennington's, as well as the state's economic make up is shifting from industrial and manufacturing jobs to the creation of commercial jobs, which is producing a wage inequality among the working population.

"The economic growth since the recession only seems to be in the service sector, which is generally lower paying than goods-producing jobs," Hoffman said.

Although there has been job creation, many residents may be taking on additional work or filling multiple part-time jobs, which shrinks the pool of available jobs for those who are seeking work.

Again, the unemployment rate is not a great indicator for the health of the economy.

Vermont is ranked second in the nation with a state unemployment rate of 3.5 percent in June. As the rate continues in flux, it's important to recognize that short-term spikes in the future rate might be the sign of a healthy economy.

"Once the state starts capturing new entrances into the labor force, a growing unemployment rate might be the sign of a growing economy," Barewicz said.

Visit the Vermont Department of Labor's website for more jobs and wage information, or seek out its resources for unemployed individuals at http://labor.vermont.gov/.

Find the Public Assets Institute online at http://publicassets.org/.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg.