The message making the rounds on Rhode Island’s January employment numbers is that it represented a slight, if mixed, improvement, because the unemployment rate fell to 9.8%, the lowest it’s been since early 2009. A large reason for that fact, however, is that a methodological revision by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics made more people disappear from the Rhode Island labor force than it did from the employment rolls.
Now, the January numbers show another large drop in the labor force, nearly 1,400 people, thus “improving” the unemployment rate, even though actual employment fell for the first time since September 2011. The reason is that only 681 fewer people reported being employed. That’s quite a different picture from Rhode Island’s new partner in last place for unemployment, California. The latter has continued to add employment, but people entering and/or returning to the labor force have kept its unemployment rate from going down.
The context of our neighboring states doesn’t offer much improvement to the picture. Despite a long decline in Connecticut, in recent years, Rhode Island still trails by quite a bit, and its gains — which have now completely stopped — have not been at all rapid.
The national picture shows not much change, from the prior month. Maryland has crossed the line to join those states that have recovered to their pre-recession peak employment. But Rhode Island is still second to last, between two states that took bold action to become right-to-work states last year.
Meanwhile, employment growth since the national jobs free fall ceased in February 2010 has been minimal in Rhode Island, and it would only take a few more months of January’s trend to put the state back in the red.