May’s cessation of the rapid slide that has characterized 2012 for Rhode Island employment is unequivocally a positive development. It was not enough, however, to dislodge the state from its second-place position on the national table of high unemployment rates or to remove the taint of the country’s worst year-over-year percentage decrease in employment.
By the numbers, Rhode Island’s number of employed residents increased 1,261 from April to May. Meanwhile, the number of people currently seeking work fell by 804, for a total labor force increase (those working and looking for work) of 457.
Although these results represent a turn in the right direction, a comparison with neighboring Massachusetts shows just how much ground the Ocean State has to recover. While Rhode Island’s unemployment rate fell by 0.2 percentage points after four months of steady increases, Massachusetts’s fell 0.3 percentage points, following nearly three years of unceasing improvement.
In the following chart, the blue lines show labor force, and the red lines show employment. The solid lines are for Rhode Island (with the scale on the left axis), and the dotted lines are for Massachusetts (with the scale on the right axis). Although the scales are different, they are proportional, so the dotted lines show approximately where Rhode Island would be had it trended more closely with its northern neighbor.
The significance of the January 2007 start date is that it was the high-water mark for Rhode Island employment. As the chart shows, while Massachusetts employment has nearly recovered all of its lost ground, Rhode Island remains about 10% behind. To return to where it was, in terms of employment, the Ocean State will have to maintain the April-to-May rate of improvement until October 2015.
That result is not likely, in the absence of a dramatic, as-yet-unforeseen change in the state’s economic climate.