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

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)

11 thoughts on “Chart: The strange RI job numbers – a tale of two surveys

  1. As a technical manufacturer in East Providence, the graph represents the upside down story we have in RI, i.e., we have jobs but can’t fill them. And there’s more to that than a few words can inform.

    John Harker

    • Dear Sir:

      Please…correct me if I’m wrong; However….In regards to job skills/training….Once upon a time when the world was younger…(I’m 58 now)
      An employer would hire those job applicants who he/she deemed WERE INTELLIGENT
      THEN; The GREAT RECESSION HIT (me; in April of 2008…)When jobs in my field began to return…(late 2009/2010)…Employers now DEMANDED that job applicants ALREADY POSSESS/KNOW/HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH ALL THE SKILLS REQUIRED TO SUCCESSFULLY PERFORM THE JOB IN QUESTION THE FIRST DAY EMPLOYED….or FORGET ABOUT BEING HIRED….PERIOD….How can ANY GROUP (anytime/anywhere) (In this case; EMPLOYERS) make such a PARA DINE SHIFT/CHANGE in the BASIC DYNAMIC that (pardon the pun) WORKED SO SUCCESSFULLY FOR HUNDREDS (THOUSANDS) OF YEARS IN THE PAST with respect to interacting with the ” other group ” in this equation (the potential employees) and EXPECT THE DYNAMIC (IN PART OR WHOLE) to RETURN TO ANYTHING NEAR (THE OLD) ” NORMALCY ” (??)….I would very much like to know your thoughts ( or any other employers’) thoughts on this subject…Thank you….Jon K. Polis….East Greenwich…

  2. The 99 week unemployment has allowed unemployed to collect for almost two years. Potential employers screen applications and any applicant that has been out for that long would be of concern. An applicant that has just lost his job would have a better chance.

    • I think this is the best, most reasonable explanation. The RI government fostered and encouraged long-term unemployment, now its citizens are less employable than the exact analogues on the other side of the border. This would be a great example of a natural experiment, if anyone were so inclined; there’s a paper in this.

  3. I feel for all who have lost their jobs and livelihood.

    but there are many out here that worked the system and instead of looking for a job when they were laid off, the question was “how long can I collect” and after I am done collecting, then I will start looking for a job.

    I think extended benefits were ok in 2008-2010. but now—-sorry, there is no money and if you get laid off these days and cant find a job, you need to get retrained and reskilled as soon as you are laid off rather than waiting for jack reed to keep the golden goose of extended benefits.

  4. First off, props to Ted for crafting a mainstream media blog with not entirely stupid commentary. It’s a rare thing, indeed.

    The @john/@jon pair of comments at the top has the most juice, IMO, and the one job advertised at microPEP illustrates the tension. The job is not super-technical and only requires a high school diploma. But the listing is mostly industry jargon and calls for three years experience. I think technical employers should not be surprised that they get few applications with highly specified listings that cast a small net.

    Do any companies still have open invitations for resumes, simply to find the most talented people and then figure out how to fit them into the company? There used to be this thing called “on the job training.”

    What’s missing from the system here is the kind of tech schools and apprenticeships that places like Germany use to fill the pipeline. They’re private/public partnerships. RI talks a lot about these but executes fairly poorly, IMO. There is a new program recently created called Bridge Jobs…we’ll see how that goes. (@john, if I were your HR director, I’d be best buddies with the AS220 Fab Lab.)

    I think there’s something in the @charles/@mario thread, too, but it makes me too sad to write about. We have a lot of pain right now, and we will for some time.

    @lost…without data to support your claim, you’re just wanking. Also, know this — waiting lists for current RI adult education programs are about one year long. So there’s that.

    @ted, one potential flaw in the data — what if our population estimates are inaccurate. Remember when Providence got the surprise bump in population in the 2010 census when everybody was expecting a drop? So it happens. Is it possible that newly-created jobs are being filled by incoming residents post-census? Anecdotally, at the Code for America launch, there were several people new to RI working at tech companies. I doubt it’s all 20k, but it could easily be in the 5-10k.

    Finally, I think we need to put this into the cross-border equation: RI is not a particularly well-educated place and our school systems have been deeply hollowed out over decades. Our neighbors, by contrast, stress education as a policy priority.

    No one thing accounts for the shocking disconnect between RI’s jobs numbers and those of our neighbors, and no one thing is going to solve it.

  5. Ted,

    There are several factors that aren’t made clear in your numbers. In particular, the number of residents who get in their car and drive across state line every day to go to those high paying jobs in Mass and Ct., and the breakdown of payroll on the created jobs you cite.

    Knowledge on the number of “residents employed somewhere else” gets to a more important factor: how dependent is RI on other states for it’s own “full employment” and “high wage earners”.

    Why that is important is that the eventual impact from higher and higher RI local property taxes, commuting costs, taxes on cars that get people to work, state tax policy that disallows “itemized deductions”, etc. will impact RI’s jobs numbers at the “high income” end. People don’t suffer commuting to go to low wage jobs.

    In short, those high paying jobs people are commuting to every day will eventually disappear as RI’s costs to live in-state go out of sight. We lose both jobs, and the higher income those jobs bring into the state.

    None of the candidates are addressing that issue.

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