August 2018 Employment: Cooling Already?

Rhode Island’s employment numbers are still positive… if we’re talking about the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey on which the unemployment rate is based.  Employment was up month-over-month in August by 983, from revised number for July, and the labor force edged up another 217, bringing the unemployment rate down to 4.0%.

The labor force number represents a slow-down from the prior trend, which may have to do with the big negative of the August report, which was that the number of jobs based in Rhode Island dropped by 2,400.  The first chart shows the trends for employment and labor force:



As the second chart shows, the unemployment rate would still be 6.1% if the labor force were the same size it was just before the recession.  This gap will disappear when employment reaches its pre-recession level, which has been an achingly slow process.



Context can also be applied to Rhode Island’s employment data by comparing the Ocean State with its neighbors.  As the following chart shows, Massachusetts continues to gain both employment and labor force at a healthy rate while Connecticut fights its rut.



The national context also shows an unhappy picture for Rhode Island, although some small comfort may be taken in the fact that Vermont is now slightly farther from its employment peak, so Rhode Island’s showing is not, for the moment, the worst in New England.



Meanwhile, the drop in the state’s number of jobs puts the brake on Rhode Island’s acceleration.  On the following chart, the dark area is the number of Rhode Islanders who say they are employed (anywhere and any amount), and the light area is the number of jobs that Rhode Island businesses claim on tax forms (not including the self-employed and owners, but including out-of-state employees).

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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 46th in the country.

That apparently improved outcome mostly results from the size of job losses in New York combined with the Empire State’s increase in state and local taxes compared with Rhode Island’s loss of state and local taxes.  If the changes in non-national taxes resulted from corresponding increases or decreases in the personal income of residents, this improvement in Rhode Island’s rank could reverse next month.



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