March 2018 Employment: Mixed, but Lagging

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For Rhode Island, March brought another employment and jobs report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that depends largely on which metrics one follows.  A survey of people asked if they were working saw modest gains in employment and labor force (which includes those who say they are either working or looking for work), but tax information about the number of jobs that exist in the Ocean state saw a modest loss.

The following chart shows the first two datasets (employment and labor force) since before the recession.

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The gain in employment numbers means that a relatively stagnant unemployment rate (improving by one-tenth of a percentage point based on rounding) would have been a healthier reduction if the state’s labor force hadn’t been evaporating since the recession.  Measured against that peak labor force number, the Ocean State’s unemployment rate would have fallen from 7.4% to 7.3% in March — still one-tenth of a percent, but genuine, not because of rounding.

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The employment and labor force lines look relatively good for Rhode Island compared with Connecticut (at least as far as the trend goes; RI is still well behind), but relatively bad compared with Massachusetts.

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Nationally, the trend is generally not good.  The cluster of states at the back of the pack for regaining employment since the recession may be beginning to leave Rhode Island behind.

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On the following chart, the dark area matches the employment data shown above, while the light area shows RI-based jobs.  Both trends have become relatively stagnant, but the more-accurate measure (jobs) has turned down this month.

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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.  With this iteration, the hope that Connecticut might take Rhode Island out of last place by falling has faded, because the Nutmeg State saw a dramatic reduction in federal taxes, versus the prior fiscal year, which the index counts as a positive.  However, that outcome (if it isn’t a fluke) is probably not a good sign for Rhode Island’s neighbor in the long term, and its other indicators are mostly down.

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