Rhode Island Employment Snapshot, May 2014: The Silent Boom

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate moved down by a notch, rather than a leap, in May, to 8.2%.  However, the 2,659 newly employed Rhode Islanders, according to official Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures, lead the nation in terms of growth. The downsides of these numbers are that they’re simply difficult to believe and that, even if they’re accurate, the state’s employment situation is still abysmal.

The first chart below illustrates the first downside. If we believe the lines that the government is drawing for us, over 13,000 Rhode Islanders have found employment since December, and we’re back to the employment level of January 2009, after more than five years of wallowing.  Are there any non-statistical signs of this recovery?

The second chart provides a longer-term sense of the results. Rhode Island is still below its employment level just before the jobs-crash of the recession and still lags both of its neighbors dramatically when it comes to reclaiming jobs.  Indeed, Massachusetts has now surpassed its pre-recession peak.

The third chart compares Rhode Island’s unemployment rate with what it would have been if the state’s labor force had held steady. It shows 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, with the exception of the peculiar results these past three months.  Even if the results since December reflect real growth, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate would still be over 11% if people had not stopped looking for work.

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