February 2018 Employment: Preparing to Miss the Wave?

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Rhode Island employment numbers were okay for February — with 545 more people saying they are employed while the total labor force (those working or looking for work) was up by 718 — but most states saw increases, and they were generally larger.  As the following chart shows, Rhode Island is still waiting for these two statistics, published as part of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly employment report, to show a convincing return to growth.

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The gap between these two lines is reported as the official unemployment rate for the state, which is currently 4.6%.  Readers can see that a significant factor in achieving this relatively low rate has been the reduction in people looking for work and therefore included in the labor force.  Without that loss, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate would currently be 7.4%, as shown in the following chart.

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By comparison, the unemployment rates of Rhode Island’s neighboring states, Connecticut and Massachusetts, have shown improvement even though those states have seen increases in the number of people looking for work.

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It isn’t surprising, therefore, that Rhode Island remains near the back of the pack of states across the country when it comes to recovering employment lost during the recession.

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Another statistic that the BLS tracks is the number of jobs in each state.  Because it derives from business filings, this data is more accurate than the survey-based employment results, but it includes people who live in other states while excluding people from each state who work in other states and those who work for themselves.  On the following chart, the dark area matches the employment data shown above, while the light area shows RI-based jobs.  Their rate of growth has tended to be slower and steadier, de-emphasizing the reduction in the rate of growth since around the beginning of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s term in office.

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The last chart for this monthly report shows New England states’ positions on the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI).  JOI takes into account 12 data points, including these employment and jobs numbers as well as income, taxes, and welfare, and it finds Rhode Island to be 47th in the country.  This represents a slight improvement from the rank of 48th that the Ocean State held from 2012 through 2016, but still down from 42nd, which was the state’s position prior to the recession.  At this point, the most likely way for Rhode Island to shed its status as last in New England appears to be if Connecticut continues its descent.

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