May 2019 Employment: All Downhill (In the Wrong Way)

May employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) brought more bad news for Rhode Island.  Yes, the unemployment rate edged down in the Ocean State, but once again, it was only because more people left the labor force than lost their jobs.

As the following chart illustrates, the number of employed Rhode Islanders fell by 377, while the number of Rhode Islanders either working or looking for work dropped by 740.  These losses extend out over the year, with employment down 963 from May 2018 and labor force down 3,343.



The divergence of the actual employment picture and the often-reported improvement in the unemployment rate is illustrated in the following chart.  The blue line shows the official unemployment rate, which looks like good news, but the red line shows what the rate would be doing if people weren’t leaving the labor force.  Instead of going down, the rate would have gone up to 7.4% in May in the latter case.



Month by month the following chart varies as to whether Rhode Island has company in its decline or does not.  This is one of the months when all of Southern New England saw a softening in employment, although Massachusetts’s labor force numbers edged up.



Because the Ocean State continues to lose employment, it continues to get farther and farther away from the milestone of recovering all employment the state had at the start of the Great Recession 12 years ago.  That missing recovery is true of fewer and fewer states every month.

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Another chart on which Rhode Island’s employment picture can be mixed in any given month is the difference between Rhode Islanders who are employed (dark area) and the number of jobs there are in Rhode Island (light area).  For May, both were down.



When it comes to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), May brought an improvement in the Ocean State’s national rank, but only because other states’ numbers in April and May reflected the shifting of SNAP (foodstamp) benefits owing to the government shutdown earlier this year.  This didn’t affect Rhode Island statistically because the state has been unable to report its SNAP enrollment to the federal government thanks to problems with the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).


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