Rhode Island’s jaw-dropping jobs deficit

Remember 1987? Shoulder pads? “Golden Girls”? DiPrete in office, not jail?

Around the time I started at WPRI, I was astonished to discover something else about 1987 – namely, that Rhode Island’s nonfarm payrolls (basically, the total number of jobs in the state) is at the same level now as it was that year.

It’s not that we added no jobs over the intervening 23 years – it’s just that so many were wiped out by the Great Recession that the state is back down to 1987’s level. The problem is, the labor force is 11% larger now than it was then – which helps explain why the unemployment rate was 3.4% in August 1987 but 11.8% in August 2010.

And the economists I spoke with – as well as my own number-crunching – offered little hope the state will recover from its jobs deficit anytime soon. You can find out more in my new WPRI.com In-Depth story out this morning; here’s the opening:

The year was 1987. Ronald Reagan was president, “La Bamba” topped the charts, “The Cosby Show” was No. 1 – and Rhode Island had the same number of jobs it does now.

If a local Rip Van Winkle had fallen asleep in Rhode Island in 1987 and woken up today, he would find employment in the state hadn’t budged despite the passage of 23 years. The state had 453,100 jobs in August 1987 and 452,000 in August 2010, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“Rhode Island’s economy has really taken one step forward, two steps back over the last 23 years,” Paul Harrington, associate director of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies in Boston, told Eyewitness News.

The rest is here. Comments and critiques welcome, as always; leave them in comments or e-mail me.

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