One could say about Rhode Island’s employment report for June that it at least represented a pause in what looked like a downward trend and also hope that it portends a turnaround. Anybody looking for a positive milestone could note that fewer than 20,000 Rhode Islanders are unemployed for the first time since before the Great Recession. Of course, that’s only true because the number of Rhode Islanders actually working or looking for work is the lowest it’s been since August 2002.
Putting the levels of labor force (red line) and employment (blue line) on a chart illustrates how premature positivity would be:
If we take labor force changes out of the picture, we can likewise see how misleading the official employment rate is (blue line). Were it not for people exiting the labor force since the start of the recession (red line), the unemployment rate would still be 7.4%, rather than 3.8%.
For the moment, Rhode Island can continue to take some solace in the fact that its neighbors, Massachusetts and Connecticut, are not trending in a positive direction. Of course, as the following chart illustrates by tracking employment and labor force from the start of the recession, they have maintained a much better trend over the long term.
As the following chart shows, both MA and CT have long since regained all their lost employment, whereas RI is still in the bottom 3 states among 11 that have thus far failed to bring their populations back to the level of employment they enjoyed at the beginning of 2007.
Rhode Island’s brightest spot in the employment report for June was the boost in jobs based in the state. Note, however, that this is a count of the number of jobs (i.e., people working for other people), whether they are full time or part time or held by Rhode Islanders or not.
Results for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) have a similar feel. Although most of the underlying metrics, from employment to Medicaid enrollment to personal income, are positive, we must remember that RI is near the bottom of the national pack, at 47th, and still managed to slip on two of the three sub-indexes. In contrast, as indicated in the following chart, New Hampshire is near the top and improved to 2nd place in June.