work force

Providence posts 2nd-biggest jump in advanced degrees

October 6th, 2014 at 12:32 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The share of workers in the Providence metropolitan area who have an advanced degree increased by more than in almost any other region in the country over the past eight years, a new study shows.

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Chart: 23% of Rhode Island workers are now age 55 or older

July 8th, 2014 at 2:26 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island’s work force is getting older and older in the wake of the Great Recession.

The total number of Rhode Island workers ages 16 to 54 dropped by 55,000 between 2006 and 2013, while the number of workers ages 55 and older rose by 31,000, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey. Those totals include both employed and unemployed workers.

A total of 23% of Rhode Island workers were at least 55 years old in 2013, compared with 17% in 2006.

Here’s a chart comparing the number of workers in each age group in 2006 versus 2013:

RI labor force by ageWhile the growth in Rhode Island’s 55-plus labor force wasn’t enough to offset the decline in its 16-to-54-year-old one, the opposite was true across the broader population. The state’s civilian non-institutional population ages 16 and older grew by 7,000 between 2006 and 2013, thanks to a net gain of 54,000 residents ages 55 and up.

Rhode Island’s population losses between 2006 and 2013 were concentrated in one age group: 35- to 54-year-olds, whose overall number fell by 47,000 during that period – a 14% drop. That decline suggests middle-aged residents either left the state, aged out of the group but weren’t replaced by younger residents, or some combination of the two.

Adults between the ages of 25 and 54 are referred to by economists as “prime-age” workers because they are in the prime of their working lives – focusing on their careers, raising their families and saving for retirement.

Ted Nesi ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

RI unemployment rate dips to 9% as employers hire

March 20th, 2014 at 2:18 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s unemployment rate dropped to 9% in February as local employers added 1,500 jobs, new data released Thursday shows.

February also marked a key symbolic milestone for Rhode Island: after four-and-a-half years of slow progress, the state finally gained back more than half the 39,800 jobs it lost between December 2006 and July 2009. However, another 19,000 would need to be added to return to the record pre-recession peak of 495,700 achieved at the end of 2006.

Read the rest of this story »

• Related: The share of RI residents working is now the lowest in 30 years (March 7)

Taveras proposes new job-training program at CCRI

March 11th, 2014 at 11:15 am by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Angel Taveras on Tuesday put forward a proposal to have the Community College of Rhode Island offer up to 2,000 Rhode Islanders specialized job training tailored to the needs of individual companies.

Gina Raimondo quickly dismissed the Taveras plan as just “baby steps,” which led the Taveras campaign to accuse the treasurer of “trying to score cheap political points.” Republican Ken Block, meanwhile, said both Democrats want “more big government business as usual.”

Read the rest of this story »

• Related: Raimondo rolls out plan to boost RI manufacturing (March 10)

Chart: The strange RI job numbers – a tale of two surveys

March 7th, 2014 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Which of the following statements is true: “Rhode Island is making slow but steady progress regaining all the jobs the state lost during the Great Recession,” or “Rhode Island has made almost no progress recovering from the drop in employment during the Great Recession”?

The answer: both, at least according to the latest data from the Department of Labor and Training.

Each month the DLT (along with the U.S. Labor Department) conducts two surveys to come up with the numbers for the monthly employment report. One survey asks households to say whether their residents are working or looking for work; the other asks employers how many people they have on their payrolls.

The responses provide two different numbers. The household survey produces the official unemployment rate – it’s a count of how many Rhode Island residents are working or looking for work. The employer survey, on the other hand, produces the monthly job count (formally known as “nonfarm payrolls“).

You wouldn’t expect the numbers to be identical – after all, a Rhode Island resident from Cumberland can hold a Massachusetts-based job in Attleboro, just as a Massachusetts resident from Seekonk can hold a Rhode Island-based job in Tiverton. Since 2010, though, the two measures have diverged sharply:

RI household vs employer surveys 2006 to 2013

This chart tracks the monthly counts from both surveys – Rhode Island nonfarm payrolls in blue, Rhode Island resident employment in red – with both of them shown as a percentage of their December 2006 levels (the peak of the previous economic expansion). The two job counts moved roughly in tandem from 2007 through the middle of 2010, but then they began to move apart – and have stayed apart for more than three years.

As of January, Rhode Island nonfarm payrolls had made up 19,100 of the 39,800 jobs lost during the recession, or 48% of the total. (Not necessarily the same jobs, of course.) But Rhode Island resident employment had gone up by just 3,200 after a decline of 52,400, for a recovery of barely 6%.

This is a perplexing turn of events. Are Rhode Island employers hiring lots of non-residents from, say, Massachusetts and Connecticut? Is there something wrong with the data? Also, which side of the equation should Rhode Island policymakers focus on – the slow but clear recovery seen in the employer payroll data, or the almost nonexistent post-recession recovery in resident employment? What do you think?

• Related: The share of RI residents working is now the lowest in 30 years (March 6)

RI unemployment rate dips to 9.2%; 3,800 jobs added

March 6th, 2014 at 4:03 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s jobless rate dipped to 9.2% in January as the state’s employers added 3,800 positions, according to new data released Thursday.

Read the rest of this story »

• Related: The share of RI residents working is now the lowest in 30 years (March 6)

The share of RI residents working is now the lowest in 30 years

March 6th, 2014 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island achieved a worrying new milestone at the end of 2013: the share of the state’s residents who were working dropped to the lowest level in 30 years.

Just 58.8% of Rhode Islanders ages 16 and up were employed as of November and December, according to revised employment data released last week by the R.I. Department of Labor and Training. (The count excludes institutionalized individuals and active-duty military personnel.)

Before that point, Rhode Island’s employment-population ratio hadn’t fallen as low as 58.8% since April 1983, when the economic recovery during President Reagan’s first term was getting started.


Watch: The 5 charts you need to see to get RI’s jobs crisis

January 23rd, 2014 at 3:31 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island’s latest jobs report was released Thursday, and the numbers were ugly: unemployment ticked up to 9.1% in December and the labor force shrank again; in addition, 1,500 jobs were lost. It’s possible some of the numbers will be revised in a more positive direction, but the recovery is clearly disappointing.

Shortly before the new numbers came out, we taped a segment for next weekend’s Executive Suite where I break down why Rhode Island’s employment situation is so discouraging. Since the topic is timely, I thought I’d share it now. Watch and leave your reaction:

Unemployment up to 9.2% in Rhode Island

November 21st, 2013 at 4:27 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s workers continued to lose ground in September and October despite a growing number of jobs in the state, as the unemployment rate rose to 9.2% and stayed there, according to new data released Thursday.

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Why is RI unemployment down without more people working?

November 12th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Economist has published an interesting chart that compares the official U.S. unemployment rate (which counts those Americans who don’t have a job but are actively looking for one) with the “non-employment rate” (the share of all 16-and-older Americans who don’t have a job, some of whom don’t want one).

The two statistics differ because “non-employment” includes senior citizens, students, stay-at-home parents and others who are choosing not to work. They wouldn’t be working even in a robust job market.

The Economist’s chart demonstrates pretty vividly that, contrary to what you might expect, the recent decline in the U.S. unemployment rate is not a sign that a larger share of the American population is actually working. So what does the same chart look like for Rhode Island?

It’s not as stark, but still worrying. After rising roughly in lockstep through mid-2009, the two statistics decoupled. Whereas Rhode Island unemployment peaked in January 2010 at 11.9%, “non-employment” didn’t peak until September 2011 – more than a year and a half later – at 41.1%. Take a look:



IHS: RI won’t get back to its pre-recession job count until 2018

September 30th, 2013 at 10:55 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

A top forecasting firm says the Rhode Island job market will remain depressed for another half a decade.

Rhode Island won’t finish recovering all the jobs it lost during the Great Recession until sometime in 2018, five years from now, according to the latest analysis by IHS Global Insight reported by The Wall Street Journal.

IHS continues to predict that Rhode Island is one of only three states – along with Michigan and Nevada – where payroll employment will be stuck below pre-recession level until 2018. By contrast, Massachusetts and New York have already reached new employment highs, and Rhode Island is also projected to lag New Hampshire (2014), Vermont (2014), Maine (2016) and Connecticut (2016).

Nonfarm payroll employment in Rhode Island fell from 496,400 in December 2006 to 456,800 in August 2009, a drop of 39,600 or nearly 8%, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Employment totaled 468,100 last month, up by 11,300 from the August 2009 trough – which comes out to an average annual gain of 2,825 jobs since August 2009, suggesting it could take 14 years to recover employment unless the pace speeds up.


• Related: RI regains only 22% of jobs lost in recession as Mass. passes 100% (April 17)

Unemployment back up to 9.1% in RI despite Aug. job gains

September 19th, 2013 at 3:03 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s already disappointing economic recovery suffered a new setback in August as the jobless rate rose and more than 50,000 residents remained on the unemployment rolls five years after the financial crisis, according to new data released Thursday.

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• Related: Chart: Rhode Island’s government work force keeps shrinking (Sept. 4)

Unemployment ticked up to 8.9% in Rhode Island in July

August 15th, 2013 at 3:49 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island job market’s weak recovery took a worrying step backwards in July as thousands of residents stopped working, according to new data released Thursday.

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RI jobless rate stays at 8.9% in June; labor force shrinks again

July 18th, 2013 at 2:26 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s jobless rate stayed steady in June as the number of workers continued to shrink long after the official end of the Great Recession, data released Thursday shows.

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Unemployment rate in Rhode Island declines to 8.8%

May 16th, 2013 at 3:01 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s unemployment rate fell to 8.8% in April, reaching the lowest level in four and a half years thanks to a shrinking work force, according to new data released Thursday.

Rhode Island employers added 500 jobs in April, the fifth increase in the last six months. The state would need to add another 29,000 jobs to get back to the peak employment level reached in 2006, which wouldn’t happen until February 2018 if the pace of job growth in April continued.

Read the rest of this story »

Chart: RI workers not that productive despite high urbanization

April 12th, 2012 at 9:51 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Via Matt Yglesias, here’s a chart from Credit Suisse [pdf] showing the link between urbanization and worker productivity across the 50 states. ”The most important resource we have in the vast majority of the country is the other people who live here, so we benefit from urban agglomeration,” Yglesias writes.

Yet the chart shows Rhode Island is getting less out of this than most states. The only state with a more urban, less productive work force than Rhode Island is Nevada, which is also the only state with an unemployment rate higher than Rhode Island’s (12.3% versus 11% in February). Take a look:


Study: Rhode Island leads the US in manufacturing job losses

March 20th, 2012 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

It’s no secret the United States has hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs over the past decade. But some states were hit harder than others – and Rhode Island was hit hardest of all.

Manufacturing companies in Rhode Island cut more workers than their counterparts in any other state from 2001 to 2011, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Moody’s Analytics data.

Rhode Island lost 37.1% of its manufacturing jobs over those 10 years, as the industry’s total labor force dropped from 64,500 workers in 2001 to 40,600 in 2011. The next-biggest declines were in North Carolina (34.9%), Michigan (34.7%) and New Jersey (34.2%).

Other New England states lost a smaller but still sizable number of manufacturing jobs from 2001 to 2011, with declines ranging from 30.1% in Massachusetts to 24.6% in Connecticut. The only state where manufacturing work grew was tiny North Dakota, which eked out a 2.5% increase by adding 600 jobs.


RI facing ‘a lost decade’ after jobless rate hits 11% in new data

February 29th, 2012 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It turns out Rhode Island’s job market wasn’t as ugly as it looked in 2011.

It was worse.

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate hasn’t fallen below 11% in more than two and a half years and was higher than originally reported throughout 2011, according to revised data released Wednesday by the Department of Labor and Training. Fewer residents were working or looking for work last year than first reported, as well.

“It shows that the recovery was probably a little bit slower than we thought,” said Zachary Sears, an economist with Moody’s who tracks Rhode Island. He cited a number of factors that held back the economy in 2011, notably the euro crisis, the debt-ceiling debate and rising oil prices. “All those weights make for a very slow recovery.”

Rhode Island will not regain all the jobs the state lost in the downturn until 2015, the same year the unemployment rate will fall back to 6%, according to’s forecast. The state began losing jobs in 2007, about a year before the nation as a whole.


Why Apple doesn’t manufacture iPhones in Rhode Island

January 22nd, 2012 at 2:05 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

An extraordinary story in today’s New York Times:

[A]s Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke, President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said ….

URI’s Len Lardaro reminded me last week that 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the year Rhode Island stopped being a manufacturing economy. Manufacturing output in Rhode Island has stayed basically steady since 1997, but manufacturing employment has plunged by nearly half. Providence’s workers faced more risk from the rise of China than their peers in any other region of the U.S. save one.

All those worrisome facts came to mind as I read The Times’ stunning article on why iPhones aren’t made in America. The answer is, if anything, more troubling than I’d thought before – the migration of the entire global electronics supply chain to Asia has put the American economy at a deep disadvantage that will be very, very hard to overcome.

Rhode Island’s congressional delegation talks a lot about bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., and each of its members will find some evidence for their views. Senator Whitehouse says China pursues unfair trade practices; that’s part of it. Congressman Langevin says Rhode Islanders aren’t being educated and trained properly; that’s part of it. Congressman Cicilline says the federal government doesn’t support its manufacturing sector the same way China does; that’s part of it.

But reading The Times piece – which you should do – makes their proposals seem awfully inadequate to the scale of the challenge.

RI jobless rate rises to 10.8%, but economist questions data

January 20th, 2012 at 12:01 am by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – More Rhode Islanders looked for work in December but failed to find it, boosting the unemployment rate as the state lost jobs for a fifth straight month.

Rhode Island’s jobless rate rose to 10.8%, up from 10.5% in November, the Department of Labor and Training said Friday. Rhode Island has had a double-digit unemployment rate since March 2009, and December marked a grim milestone – five years since the state’s job count peaked before the Great Recession.

Zachary Sears, an economist who tracks Rhode Island for Moody’s, questioned the accuracy of the statistics that appear to show the state’s recovery reversing. He said the volatility in monthly data for Rhode Island and other small states probably “overstates the deterioration” in recent months.

Read the rest of this story »

Chart of the day: Rhode Island’s yawning jobs deficit

January 9th, 2012 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

There have been five recessions in Rhode Island since 1970, and the state has lost a lot of jobs each time. The chart below from the Department of Labor and Training gives some perspective about the scale of what’s transpired in this latest downturn and the snail’s pace of the recovery.

The current situation (shown in black) looks uncomfortably like the decade-long slog to recover from the collapse that began in 1989 (in red) – another recession in progress that was significantly exacerbated by a financial crisis (in that case, the credit union fiasco).

Take a look:

Note that this chart is as of September – Rhode Island lost another 2,300 jobs in October and November. At last count the state’s total payroll figure was exactly the same as it was back in December 2010. (Of course, all those numbers could change significantly once the annual revisions are released.)

The bad news behind RI’s falling unemployment rate

April 25th, 2011 at 7:00 am by under Nesi's Notes

What recovery?

Rhode Island’s punishing unemployment rate has been dropping for more than a year now. After peaking at 11.8% in the winter of 2009-10, the rate has ticked downward steadily, falling to 11% in March.

On the surface, that would seem to indicate Rhode Island’s job market is on the mend. But another metric – the employment-population ratio – reveals just how little improvement has really taken place over the last year and a half.

Take a look at this chart:

Only 60% of Rhode Islanders ages 16 and up were working in March, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the U.S. Labor Department (shown in red above).

That’s up just half a percentage point from the 59.5% who were working during the worst month of the recession, October 2009, and down from 65.6% at the start of 2007. It’s also lower than the annual averages for every year since 1983, when fewer women were in the work force.

In raw numbers, 508,874 Rhode Islanders were employed as of last month, while 63,008 were unemployed. Add those together and you’ve got the state’s total work force: 571,882 residents 16 and older.

The work force number (in blue above) tells a worrying story, too. That measures how many Rhode Islanders are either employed or unemployed but looking for a job; if you give up on looking, you stop getting counted. As of March, 67.5% of Rhode Island’s adult population was in the work force.

The percentage of Rhode Islanders in the work force slid during the recession, though much less steeply than the percentage employed did, since lots of people who lost their jobs kept trying to find a new one.

In the spring of 2009, though, something changed, and a lot of Rhode Islanders started coming back into the work force – perhaps resuming their job searches after seeing signs of a recovery. By the spring of 2010, 68.3% of adult Rhode Islanders were either working or looking for a job.

But then last summer, things changed again – perhaps because of the floods, or a lack of job opportunities. Whatever the reason, the adult work force began to shrink again at that point and has continued to do so for almost a year now – not exactly a sign of a healthy job market. The 67.5% of residents in the work force in March was only four-tenths of a point higher than the recession’s low of 67.1% two years earlier.

Bottom line: After taking a few tentative steps toward recovery through early 2010, Rhode Island’s employment picture has been worsening – or, at best, flatlining – since last June.

Bloomberg News noted a similar phenomenon nationally earlier this month:

The sharpest drop in unemployment in more than a quarter century obscures a simple fact: The jobs market still isn’t working for many Americans. …

The [employment-population] ratio is a better measure of the jobs market because, unlike the unemployment rate, it isn’t affected by changes in the size of the labor force, said Edward Leamer, a professor of management, economics and statistics at the University of California at Los Angeles.

About half of the fall in the jobless rate during the last four months was caused by Americans who gave up looking for work and left the labor force – a development that he said isn’t something to welcome. “It’s people getting so discouraged that they’re dropping out,” said Leamer, who is also director of UCLA Anderson Forecast.

That number may grow later this year as extended government unemployment benefits run out, Krueger added. To collect those benefits, the jobless must show that they are searching for work, and the longer people are without a job, the less time they spend looking, according to a study of 6,025 unemployed that Krueger conducted with Andreas Mueller of Stockholm University in 2009 and 2010.

Turns out RI jobless rate never topped 11.8% in ’10

March 4th, 2011 at 7:00 am by under General Talk

Remember that big drop in Rhode Island’s unemployment rate during the first eight months of last year? It never actually happened.

The R.I. Department of Labor and Training has released its annual revisions to the previous year’s employment statistics, and - just like last year – the revised numbers show our jobless rate wasn’t quite as bad as originally reported.

The new data shows the jobless rate was much more stable in 2010 than previously reported, barely inching down from 11.8% to 11.5% over the course of the year. The original data had it falling more dramatically, from 12.7% to 11.5%. It ticked down further to 11.3% in January, DLT said today.

Here’s a chart showing the original data in blue and the revised data in red:

I’m on the run this morning as I head over to the Poverty Institute’s annual Budget Rhode Map Conference in Cranston, so that’s all for now on this. intern Claire Peracchio contributed research.

RI’s jobless – young, male, high school-educated

February 16th, 2011 at 7:00 am by under General Talk

By Claire Peracchio

The face of unemployment in Rhode Island is male, working-age and high school-educated.

That’s according to a snapshot of Rhode Island’s unemployed population issued by the R.I. Department of Labor and Training. The report analyzed the roughly 35,000 unemployed workers collecting benefits as of last June. (Due to eligibility restrictions, they made up about half the 69,300 officially unemployed that month.)

While the report didn’t get much fanfare when it came out last November, it puts a human face on the state’s still painfully high jobless rate, which was 11.5% in December.

Almost 60% of people collecting benefits last June were classified as “long-term unemployed,” meaning they’d been out of work for at least 15 weeks. And 16% had been collecting benefits for more than a year. The maximum allowed is 99 weeks.

The vast majority of unemployment insurance recipients – more than two-thirds of the total – were part of the state’s 25- to 54-year-old working-age population.

And while men were more likely than women to be collecting – 54% of recipients were male – women were more likely than men to be unemployed long-term.

The report offers further evidence of how much the manufacturing sector has been hurt by the Great Recession in a state that has seen factories closing for years, as well.

Nearly one in five of those claiming unemployment insurance last June – 18% – had worked in manufacturing before they lost their jobs. That was significantly more than the next two categories: construction at 13% and retail at 12%.

Those with less education were also more likely to be collecting unemployment. Workers with only a high school degree, who represent 29% of the state’s total population, made up a much larger share of jobless benefit recipients: 42%.

The full report is available as a PDF on the DLT website.

Claire Peracchio is a student at Brown University and an intern at

More on union membership in RI since 1989

February 1st, 2011 at 7:00 am by under General Talk

As I reported last week, unions in Rhode Island lost 5,000 members in 2010, reducing the total share of workers represented by organized labor here to 16.4%.

But the Labor Department’s website only gives the unionization share in Rhode Island going back to 2000. So I asked the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Boston if they could provide data going further back, and they obliged with another 11 years’ worth of statistics.

Here’s the picture for Rhode Island and the U.S. (except 1994, the only year where there aren’t state estimates):

In both cases, union membership has been declining, though the percentages have jumped around quite a bit more in Rhode Island.

Off the top of my head, I’d guess that Rhode Island’s outlier years – 1991-92 and 2009 – aren’t really showing a surge in unionization; rather, those were years when a lot of people lost their jobs, so a similar or even reduced number of union members could have made up a larger share of the overall labor force if it shrank enough.

It’s also possible that has something to do with the timing of recessions. State and local governments, which employ a lot of unionized workers, often don’t start making deep cuts right when a recession begins because it takes time for the economic impact to feed through into reduced tax revenue.

The government doesn’t break out the number of private- and public-sector union workers by state, so I don’t know how that compares here. But nationally, 2009 marked the first year when the total number of government workers in unions topped the total number of private-sector ones.

Update: Caveat emptor on RI union membership data (1:43 p.m.)

Rhode Island unions lost 5,000 members in 2010

January 28th, 2011 at 10:52 am by under General Talk, On the Main Site

Rhode Island’s labor unions lost 5,000 members last year, but the state remained one of the most heavily unionized in the country, according to a new report from the U.S. Labor Department.

Check out my new article for the full story. And, naturally, I have a chart for you:

Harrington: IMF wrong, RI’s problem is ‘jobs deficit’

January 18th, 2011 at 12:13 pm by under General Talk

The IMF thinks Rhode Island’s natural rate of unemployment is now 8%. Paul Harrington isn’t buying it.

Harrington – who just took a new job as the head of Drexel University’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy after years at Northeastern – told me the reason for continued high unemployment in Rhode Island hasn’t changed: the state’s weak economy isn’t creating enough jobs for all the people who need them.

As evidence, Harrington pointed to the state’s annual job vacancy survey [pdf], which came out last summer. It found 8,106 jobs open in the summer of 2010 – a time when roughly 70,000 Rhode Islanders were officially unemployed.

“So if you filled every single [vacant] job, 80% of your unemployment problem would still be there,” said Harrington, who’s been analyzing the Rhode Island economy for years.

In the paper I wrote about yesterday, the IMF’s economists argued Rhode Island’s natural unemployment rate rose two points, from about 6% to 8%, between 2007 and 2009 because of structural factors – a weak housing market and a mismatch between the skills workers possess and the skills employers need. The paper did say that could change.

But no structural explanation is needed to account for Rhode Island’s persistent unemployment problem, in Harrington’s view.

“The ratio of unemployed workers to vacant jobs suggests overwhelmingly that the unemployment problem in Rhode Island and the nation is not structural mismatches and job mismatches,” he said. “There are many more unemployed workers than there are jobs.” Period.

The real problem confronting the economy is deflation driven by weak demand, not inflation driven by a lack of supply, which is why President Obama and lawmakers enacted the tax cut compromise last month and the Federal Reserve is pumping more money into the economy, Harrington said.

“At the end of the day, we have a jobs deficit relative to the number of unemployed people we have,” he said. “This is old-fashioned pump-priming, and what [U.S. leaders] are trying to do is get that pump primed so we can get a sustained recovery.” They may succeed – many economists upgraded their GDP growth forecasts after the tax-cut bill passed.

Still, I asked, is there any advice Harrington would give Rhode Island’s policymakers about what to do in the short term to help get the unemployed back to work?

One thing they can do, he said, is make sure that the state’s work-force development programs build strong relationships with employers so that people can complete their training and then actually use it to get a paying job.

“You’ve got to face the reality of things,” Harrington said. “If you don’t, the consequences are high.”

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