May 2016 Employment: Stagnation Becoming Undeniable

Slowly, the reality of Rhode Island’s employment data is beginning to sink into the reportage.  The longer the data remains largely stagnant, the less a bad month will seem like a mild setback to progress, and May was a bad month for the Ocean State, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Employment dropped by 441 Rhode Islanders while the labor force shrank by 298.  In the recent past the labor force has tended to shrink more than employment, leading to the appearance of an improving unemployment rate, but that consideration didn’t apply in May.  At the same time, the number of jobs based in Rhode Island dropped by 2,000, with another 400 erased from the April number in a revision.

As the following chart shows, Rhode Island has had almost no employment growth (seasonally adjusted) for almost a year.


A comparison with Rhode Island’s two neighbors doesn’t do much more than bring the solace of knowing that Massachusetts and Connecticut didn’t rocket quite so far ahead as in recent months.


To temper that mild bit of comfort, one must note the depressing milestone that Rhode Island’s tie with New Mexico when it comes to employment recovered since the recession brings us back at second-to-last in the nation.  Our former companions at the bottom of the list — Indiana and Michigan — both implemented right-to-work laws and are both climbing the ranks now.


Adding jobs based in Rhode Island to the chart alongside employment shows how significant May’s decline was.  Not only did 2,400 jobs disappear from the picture, but the story more or less becomes one of stagnation over the past year by both measures.


Lastly, a chart showing what the unemployment rate would have been if so many Rhode Islanders hadn’t stopped looking for work since the recession shows not only that the Ocean State crossed back over the 9% unemployment line, but also that the statisticians and the politicians who love them may have wrung all of the fake good news out of the calculation that is available.  Since the Chafee administration, politicians have been touting the decline of the unemployment rate, even though the “good news” has mainly been that fewer people want to work in Rhode Island in the first place.

Even though people continue to drop out of the labor force, it won’t translate into a lower rate as long as people continue to lose work.


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