December 2018 Employment: Trying Not to Slip on the Ice

December 2018 found Rhode Island’s employment numbers continuing their slow motion version of a person just about to slip on ice… or maybe to recover.  The number of Rhode Islanders who say they are employed fell by 243.  Combined with a slightly larger labor force, this was enough to notch the Ocean State back up to 3.9% unemployment.

In the following chart, the red line shows the labor force (people working or looking for work) and the blue line shows employment since the start of the Great Recession.  The annual revision by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) may change this picture some, but as it stands, Rhode Islanders might justifiably have some trepidation about the direction of their employment market in the new year.



Owing to the fact that the increase in the unemployment rate included an actual loss of employment, the red line in our chart showing what the unemployment rate would have been over the last 11 years if the labor force hadn’t shrunk has an increase, although the rounded unemployment rate by that measurement remains 6.1%.



Also as with last month, Rhode Island’s downturn is in stark contrast with trends in the neighboring states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, which are both on dramatic upswings.



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Plotting every state in the country according to the percentage of its pre-recession peak employment that it has achieved shows Rhode Island standing still while, one by one, other states cross the 100% threshold.



One bright spot in this month’s report is the 2,200 increase in jobs in the state, bringing the total to its highest point ever.  However, some considerations should temper excitement about that record.  First, as the light area of the next chart shows, the increase has been an achingly slow climb.  Second, both survey data of employees’ status and the average number of hours per week reported on tax forms suggest that the jobs aren’t as full as at this point in December 2007.



Regarding the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report, the partial shutdown of the federal government has limited the data available.  The Center will resume publication of that report when the the amount of data justifies it.

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