The bleakest aspect of the latest employment report from the national Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is that Rhode Island is now all alone in last place. Whereas the Ocean State moved from 9.0% unemployment to 9.1% unemployment, Nevada dropped from the same level to 8.8%. Rhode Island is now 0.3 percentage points behind any other state in the country.
The next-bleakest aspect is that, had Rhode Island not lost so many people from its labor force — that is, if so many people had not decided to stop looking for work or had they been replaced in the workforce by somebody else — our unemployment rate would have ticked up to 13.2%
According to the statistics published by the BLS, 680 fewer Rhode Islanders reported being employed than did the month before, and 296 fewer people reported that they’re either working or looking for work.
As the first chart below illustrates, the downward drift of the labor force continues unabated, and November’s increase in employment now looks like the aberration.
The second chart gives a view of the state’s great distance from peak employment. Both of our neighbors, Massachusetts and Connecticut have seen labor force increases since the beginning of the jobs recession, and both have maintained significantly higher employment
The third chart is new, this month, and compares Rhode Island’s unemployment rate with what it would have been if the state’s labor force had held steady. The chart makes clear that the Ocean State’s unemployment rate would have been much higher, over the past few years, had people not given up looking for work… almost reaching 14% in 2011. It also emphasizes the disturbing trend that the only reason the unemployment rate seems to have been stagnant, rather than increasing, throughout 2013 is that fewer Rhode Islanders are counted at all.