April 2017 Employment: Pretty Much the Status Quo

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Rhode Island’s official unemployment rate held at 4.3%, which government officials tout as evidence of economic health.  With a long-term perspective, though, the data for April is really just a reiteration of the typical trend of most of the past decade.  Employment and labor force data (from surveys asking people if they’re working) are showing a big jump that the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will likely revise down and smooth out next January.  Meanwhile, jobs based in Rhode Island (counted using more-direct tax methods) continue to go up and down, with a slow (and slowing-down) growth trend over time.

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Because the labor force is included in the annual pre-revision bump of the survey statistics, the gap between the official unemployment rate and what it would have been but for the massive loss of people wanting work since January 2007 has fallen significantly in recent months (for the time being).

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Lest one think Rhode Island is benefiting from some employment boom unique to the Ocean State, the next chart shows that Massachusetts and Connecticut are booming in employment and labor force statistics, as well, and more pronouncedly than Rhode Island.

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One slight consolation comes from the national picture.  Looking at all states’ employment relevant to their pre-economic-crisis level, Rhode Island remains in the bottom 4 (bottom 3, by a little), but at least it nearly has the company of its New England sister, Vermont.  This chart shows, too, how the trends are largely national.  Barring some unique circumstance or the arrival of an overdue recession, the race is on to see which state will be the very last to manage to regain all of the employment lost since the middle of the last decade.

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The following chart illustrates the point stated above: that the statistical employment boom has accompanied another up-and-down, slow, and decelerating growth trend in jobs based in Rhode Island (the lighter area of the chart).

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For an expanded analysis, see the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s monthly Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report.  In keeping with the employment and labor force data, more-detailed results from the same survey show Rhode Island making gains by a broader definition of underemployment, but not enough pull the Ocean State out of the 48th place ranking that has become its long-term home.

Additionally, the state has been shedding SNAP enrollees (which is a positive for the index).  However, the reason may be well-publicized problems that the state government has had enrolling people in the program through the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP; aka RI Bridges).  Whatever the case, the total number of welfare-program enrollees tracked for the index actually went up, due to another massive increase in Medicaid recipients.

Be that as it may, no hope is on the horizon for Rhode Island to get out of last place in New England.

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