Points of View

Comparative Dashboard: Labor Force Participation

Alex Andrews

In an effort to better track progress over time, Talent 2025 selected six key performance indicators to measure the economic conditions of West Michigan against those of 11 identified peer communities. This composes our 2018 Comparative Dashboard, which illustrates how West Michigan ranked amongst its peer communities in 2017 — for each labor market indicator — and how those rankings have improved since 2015. The comprehensive 2018 Comparative Dashboard is currently available on our website.


American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year Estimates from 2015 were ranked for each Combined Statistical Area (CSA) across the nation — for each of our six labor market indicators — yielding both a national ranking and a peer ranking for West Michigan as compared to the nation and its peer communities, respectively. These 2015 rankings were then compared to those recorded in 2017, allowing us to track progress in West Michigan against the nation and our peers, across six indicators of a flourishing economy. Using the list of peer communities that were identified in the 6th edition of our West Michigan Talent Assessment and Outlook report allows us to better understand and benchmark our region in comparison to similar areas throughout the country. Each peer CSA is comparable to the 13-county West Michigan region both in terms of population and industry makeup, as these areas have populations within 30 percent of the Grand Rapids-Wyoming-Muskegon, MI CSA, as well as over 10 percent of employment in Manufacturing. These 11 peer CSAs are:

  • Birmingham-Hoover-Talladega, AL CSA
  • Buffalo-Cheektowaga, NY CSA
  • Dayton-Springfield-Sidney, OH CSA
  • Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, NC CSA
  • Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson, SC CSA
  • Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA CSA
  • Hartford-West Hartford, CT CSA
  • Knoxville-Morristown-Sevierville, TN CSA
  • Louisville/Jefferson County-Elizabethtown-Madison, KY-IN CSA
  • Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls, NY CSA
  • Tulsa-Muskogee-Bartlesville, OK CSA

Labor Force Participation Rate (16+)

As with the rest of the country, West Michigan has experienced a slow recovery since the turn of the century with respect to the labor force participation rate of those aged 16 and over. However, it would appear that progress in West Michigan over the past five years has outpaced both our peer communities and CSAs across the nation.

Overall, 65.4 percent of adults aged 16 and over in our region were either employed or looking for work in 2013. Comparatively, only the peer CSAs of Hartford-West Hartford, CT (67.9%) and Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA (66.6%) reported a higher labor force participation rate than West Michigan at this time. Despite a slight decrease of 0.4 percent to this metric recorded two years later, at 65.0 percent in 2015, our region’s ranking amongst its peer communities remained unchanged. Although our peers in Connecticut and Pennsylvania also experienced similar losses to their labor force participation rates in 2015 — at 0.5% and 0.8%, respectively — West Michigan still trailed the top spot by nearly 2.4 percentage points.  


Then, in 2016, the situation began to change. West Michigan’s labor force participation rate (65.0%) still ranked third among our eleven identified peer communities, but our top peers in Connecticut (67.2%) and Pennsylvania (65.4%) were experiencing losses to their labor force participation rates — while participation in the West Michigan workforce remained unaffected. Indeed, only three other comparative CSAs included in our Dashboard joined West Michigan to experience no change to this metric over the period from 2015 to 2016.


Now, in 2017, West Michigan’s labor force participation rate takes the top spot amongst our peers. With an over-the-year increase of 0.5 percentage points — bringing the regional rate to 65.9 percent — West Michigan was the only community, relative to our peers, to experience growth in labor force participation over this period. Furthermore, the previously leading CSAs of Hartford-West Hartford, CT and Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA experienced the greatest losses to their labor force participation rates over this period, at -2.8% and -1.9%, respectively. 

Future Data Topics

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