PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Another day, another worrying statistic about Rhode Island’s economy.
A new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows a significantly smaller share of prime working-age Rhode Islanders – residents ages 25 to 54 – have a job now compared with before the recession.
The study finds 77.3% of Rhode Islanders in that age group had a job last year, down from 82.5% in 2007, the year the state started losing jobs. It suggests last year’s sharp drop in the state’s unemployment rate – from 8.6% to 6.8% – may not have been accompanied by as much healing in the labor market as might be expected.
“Although unemployment figures receive more media attention, the employment rate is a preferred index for many economists because it provides a sharper picture of changes in the labor market,” Jeff Chapman and Julie Srey, two Pew researchers, explained in an analysis of the numbers. “The unemployment rate, for example, fails to count workers who stopped looking for a job.”
In addition, they said, “Focusing on 25- to 54-year-olds reduces the distortion of employment trends due to demographic effects such as older and younger workers’ choices regarding retirement or full-time education.”
- Nesi’s Notes: The aging of the Rhode Island labor force, in one chart
The share of so-called “prime-age” workers who were employed declined by 5.1 percentage points in Rhode Island from 2007 to 2014, the seventh-biggest decrease in the country and the largest in New England over that span of time.
Nationally, the prime-age employment rate declined by 3.2 points from 2007 to 2014; in Rhode Island’s neighboring states, the decrease was 2.8 points in Connecticut and less than half a percentage point in Massachusetts, where 80% of prime-age workers had a job last year.
The lower employment rates nationally and in Rhode Island suggest that the job market “remains weak” in those places, Chapman and Srey wrote.
At 77.3%, Rhode Island’s prime-age employment rate tied with Maine’s as the lowest in New England last year, while New Hampshire posted the highest at 83.5%. The national employment rate for that age group was 76.7%.
Another way to look at it: if Rhode Island could achieve the same prime-age employment rate as New Hampshire, about 25,000 more residents would have a job.