With a not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate of 11.3% in March 2012, just below the overall number for Rhode Island (11.8%), Scituate resides very near the line for the “typical” town in RI. Over the course of the first decade of the century, however, its trends were slightly worse.
Over that decade, Scituate’s population did not change at all. However, its labor force (those working or looking for work) grew 4.6%, while its number of employed residents fell 3.8%.
As the following graph shows, the unemployment gap — the space between the labor force line and the employment line — has been pretty consistent since the beginning of the Great Recession, but with an overall downward slide. Consequently, although the town has not returned to its condition in the mid-’90s, its labor force and employment numbers are both below the 22-year average of the data set, and its employment is near the all-time high set in March 2010.
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.