July 2016 Employment: Two-Month Spurt Only Seems Unusual

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The news from the latest statistics from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is positive for Rhode Island, with jobs, employment, and labor force all increasing.  The unemployment rate held at 5.5% because enough people returned to the labor force (looking for work) to offset those who found employment.

Still, caveats should abound.  This time last year, for example, Rhode Island looked to be in the midst of an employment boom, but the BLS’s January revision moved the increases earlier and placed Rhode Island in the midst of a year of employment stagnation.  Maybe Rhode Island finally broke its flat line starting in June, or maybe the false boom just started late.

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Similar to last year (although not nearly as pronounced), Rhode Island also appears to be seeing more employment growth than its two neighbors, which have consistently proven to have healthier economies.

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The national comparison is characterized by a lack of movement, although many of the states that continue to struggle below their peak employment drifted downward a little, so Rhode Island’s increase improved its standing.  The Ocean State returned to a tie for second worst state in July.  The only state below Rhode Island and New Mexico, West Virginia, gained more ground than Rhode Island, however, and therefore closed the gap to within one percentage point.

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As mentioned in this space late last week, the recent increase in the number of jobs based in Rhode Island brings the year-over-year increase to 1.03%, which is lower than the 1.06% annualized rate starting from the bottom of the crisis in 2009.  Interestingly, the following chart shows that a big drop followed by a quick return to the same rate of slow growth appears to have become an annual feature of the Rhode Island economy, although it has come late, this year.

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The following chart shows the unemployment rate dropping if the labor force is held constant at its level when the last recession.  At 8.7%, the unemployment rate would be the best it’s been since July 2008.

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Finally, largely on the strength of its latest employment numbers — including three “alternate measures of unemployment”: long-term unemployed, marginally attached workers, and involuntary part-time employed — Rhode Island edged past New York on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) to become 47th in the nation.  Based on rankings each December, Rhode Island had been 48th since 2012, although the Center does not have data compiled on a month-by-month basis prior to this spring, so the test will be the state’s standing at the end of this year.  The following chart shows competition of the New England states judged by their national ranks.

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