At times it’s seemed like nothing can get Rhode Islanders back to work, even the creation of thousands of new in-state jobs.
Ocean State employers in February reported the largest number of workers on their payrolls since economic boom was giving way to crisis in September 2008 and there were nearly 21,000 more Rhode Island-based jobs than at the bottom of the crisis in July 2009.
Yet despite those job gains, the number of employed Rhode Island residents is virtually the same since that recession-plagued summer of 2009. The 503,300 Rhode Island residents working in February was 45,586 fewer than the pre-recession peak in December 2006 and 6,799 more than the Sept. 2011 low point, according to figures from the R.I Department of Labor and Training.
So who is filling new Rhode Island jobs and why aren’t they living here?
Labor statistics and economists point to several factors separating job growth from resident employment, none of them easy to address. Nationally, labor-force participation, the share of the adult population working or looking for work, has been on the decline in recent years – from a peak of 67 percent in 2000 to 63 percent now – partly the result of the population aging.
That trend is more severe in Rhode Island, where labor participation has fallen from 65 percent in 2007 to 59 percent at the start of this year.
Another pattern has seen employers looking to residents of neighboring states, especially Massachusetts, to fill more of their Rhode Island jobs than they did before the recession.
And in many industries employment is shifting from full-time work to part-time work, boosting the number of names appearing on payrolls even when the amount of work isn’t changing.
Taken together, the economic and demographic patterns sapping Rhode Island resident employment paint a somewhat discouraging picture of the labor force and shadow progress made during the recovery.
“It’s a weird recovery,” said University of Rhode Island Economist Leonard Lardaro. “We are not alone in this but the things happening elsewhere are happening even more here.”
For Lardaro, the split between the number of Rhode Island jobs and the number of Rhode Islanders working is best explained by the shift toward part-time work and how the government measures it.