Pawtucket’s picture is one of gradual decline, over the past two decades. Its 13.3% not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate is well over the state’s 11.8%, but the broader picture is more disconcerting.
From 2000 to 2010, the city’s population decreased 2.5%, which is by no means the worst in the state. However, its labor force held at an increase of 2.8% while the number of Pawtucket residents who were actually employed slid 6.0% over the decade.
Again, none of the above is unusual, for a Rhode Island community, but where Pawtucket is notable is in the fact that these are longer-term trends. The dot-com and housing booms did shave the city’s unemployment rate, but the did not bring the general growth that is visible elsewhere across the state.
In fact, as the following chart illustrates, Pawtucket’s number of employed residents has never been lower, in the twenty-two years of data that the RI Dept. of Labor and Training provides. And rather than representing ground lost in an overall increase from the early ’90s, it is a more continual trend, and one that has been accelerating in recent years.
Unemployment is represented as the space between the lines.
Note on the Data
The population data above comes from the U.S. Census conducted every ten years and is therefore generally considered reliable, to the extent that is used as reference for various government programs and voter districting.
The labor force and unemployment data, however, derives from the New England City and Town Areas (NECTAS) segment of the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A detailed summary of the methodology is not readily available, but in basic terms, it is a model based on and benchmarked to several public surveys. It can be assumed that the sample rate (i.e., the number of people actually surveyed) in each Rhode Island town is very small (averaging roughly 30 people per municipality).
The trends shown, it must be emphasized, are most appropriately seen as trends in the model that generally relate to what’s actually happening among the population but are not an immediate reflection of it. Taking action on the assumption that the exact number of employed or unemployed residents shown corresponds directly to real people in a town would vest much too much confidence in the model’s accuracy.
Be that as it may, the data has been collected and published, and taken a town at a time, it is relatively easy to digest. So, curiosity leads the Current to see it as the best available data to deepen our understanding of trends within Rhode Island. If the findings comport with readers’ sense of how the towns relate to each other, perhaps lessons regarding local and statewide policies may be drawn. If not, then the lesson will be on the limitations of data in our era of information overload.