March 2017 Employment: Ups and Downs, Welfare and Work

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Our monthly employment report for March, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, is pretty much “business as usual.”  Employment and labor force numbers — the number of Rhode Islanders who say they are employed, and the number who are either working or looking for work — are doing their annual trick of booming inexplicably, pending a downward revision the following year.

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The following chart shows that much of the drama, in this story, is the estimated increase in the labor force.  The blue line shows the official unemployment rate of Rhode Island (at 4.3%), while the red line shows what it would have been if the state hadn’t lost so much of its labor force (at 7.7%).  With both employment and labor force appearing to boom, the red line is plummeting.

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Of course, Rhode Island isn’t alone in its apparent boom.  Indeed, Massachusetts and Connecticut continue to outperform the Ocean State dramatically, if the data is accurate.

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Consequently, while its neighbors have gained back all of the employment lost in the recession and then some, Rhode Island remains one of the handful of states still below that milestone, in the bottom 4.

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Another ordinary aspect of this month’s report is that jobs that are actually based in the state of Rhode Island (the lighter area in the following chart) continued their up and down oscillation around a slow growth trend.  This month, the number is down 700 from the prior month.

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Something a little bit out of the ordinary can be found with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s corresponding Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report for March.  Although Rhode Island’s overall rank remains a pitiful 48 out of 50, the Ocean State did lose ground on the Freedom Factor, which measures work against welfare.  Not only did other states gain more jobs and employment, but Rhode Island saw a substantial increase in Medicaid recipients and a real boom (37%) in recipients of cash welfare through the TANF program, both of which count against the state on the index.

Time will tell whether the TANF increase had to do with the implementation of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), which was partly intended to ensure that people who apply for one benefit receive all others for which they may be eligible.  For now, we can only say that, in the race to have more people experiencing the fulfillment of work while supporting the economic system, rather than being supported by it, Rhode Island is not only continuing to lag, but even falling behind.

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