Rhode Island Employment Snapshot, October 2014: Flatlining and Worse

The commentary coming out of Rhode Island’s monthly employment data for October has generally been about the mixed results.  Employment (people who tell interviewers that they are working) was up 1,124 people from September, but the labor force (people telling interviewers that they are working or looking for work) was down 336, while jobs (tax and survey data about jobs that actually exist in Rhode Island) were down 2,600.

Some of the commentary has suggested that Massachusetts is hiring Rhode Islanders at a high rate, but that seems unlikely.  Combined, Connecticut and Massachusetts created 4,800 jobs, well over what Rhode Island lost.  However, between Rhode Island’s two neighbors, an additional 25,285 people stated that they were working.  So, a straightforward analysis would find that the residents in the rest of Southern New England are claiming all the new jobs in their states and then some.

Some of the difference between the metrics may be that employment also includes people who are self employed or working off the books.  As the economy continues to stagnate, in terms of employment, people may increasingly be looking for ways — any ways — to have some income. More likely, however, the numbers are simply off and awaiting a substantial revision, probably making employment more negative and jobs more steady.

Whatever the case, Rhode Island’s official unemployment rate stood at 7.4% in October, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  The rate hasn’t been that low since May 2008, but far fewer people say that they are actually looking for work.  That has the effect of improving official unemployment on paper.

The first chart below shows that the substantial increases in labor force and employment of the first half of the year have turned into relative stagnation.

The second chart shows that both Massachusetts and Connecticut have reached the milestone of having larger labor forces and more employment than January 2007.

The third chart shows that the unemployment rate would still be hovering just under 11.0% if Rhode Island’s labor force hadn’t shrunk so much since the beginning of the recession.







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