RI jobless rate dips to 9% as employers hire

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s unemployment rate dropped to 9% in February as local employers’ payrolls finally passed the halfway point in their recovery from the Great Recession, new data released Thursday shows.

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell to 9% from 9.2% the prior month, reducing it to the lowest level since October 2008, the R.I. Department of Labor and Training said in a statement. By comparison, last month’s unemployment rate was 6.7% nationwide and 6.5% in Massachusetts.

The number of Rhode Island residents who were working rose to 503,300 in February, an increase of 3,600 from the prior month but still down by 2,900 compared with a year earlier. The number of unemployed residents fell for the seventh straight month to 49,700.

An estimated 21,600 Rhode Island workers have dropped out of the labor force since April 2010.

A separate survey of Rhode Island-based employers showed they added 1,500 jobs in February, bringing the total number of positions on the state’s nonfarm payrolls to 476,700. That’s the highest total since September 2008, the month the U.S. financial crisis exploded with the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

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

The largest job gains in February were in professional and business services, “as large job gains were scattered among the administrative and support services and professional, scientific & technical services sub-sectors,” DLT said. The worst-performing sector last month was wholesale trade, particularly durable goods wholesalers, who cut 400 jobs.

The Great Recession pushed Rhode Island’s jobless rate from below 5% at the start of 2007 to a record high of 11.9% in the winter of 2010. The rate finally dropped below 10% in October 2012, but still consistently ranks among the worst in the nation.

Thursday’s relatively positive job report arrived just after electronics manufacturer Osram Sylvania disclosed it will close its plant in Central Falls, eliminating 88 jobs, but also followed an announcement this week that Irish food manufacturer Greencore Group Plc will build a plant at Quonset Business Park that could eventually employ more than 600 workers.

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

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