Rhode Island’s 9.2% unemployment rate is worst in the nation by a half-percentage-point margin. No other state really comes close. Worse yet, for the first time since we started tracking these numbers, the Ocean State is the farthest in the union from its pre-recession employment peak.
The first chart below illustrates the story pretty well. After two years of employment free-fall, Rhode Island experience a little bit of a rebound. Within six months, however, there began to be no fuel in the recovery, and the labor force responded by beginning its long trend of giving up. All reduction in the state’s unemployment rate during this period is attributable to people exiting Rhode Island’s economy as workers.
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 compares Rhode Island’s unemployment rate with what it would have been if the state’s labor force had held steady. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has revised its numbers since the last time we published this chart, but the main differences are that unemployment never got as low as Rhode Island officials had claimed, and the growth in the gap between the two lines is steadier and more dramatic.
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.