Through April of this year, Rhode Island continued to have the second-highest unemployment rate in the United States, leaving the state with 62,178 people unemployed. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April was 11.2 percent, a one-tenth of a percentage point increase from the March rate. In fact, a double-digit unemployment rate is forecast for Rhode Island through the end of 2013.
As high as that rate it, it does not include the underemployed or those who left the workforce because they could not find a job, numbers that are reflected in the size of the state’s labor force. The Rhode Island labor force totaled 556,259 in April, the lowest labor-force level since March 2005. Overall, the state has lost 33,100 jobs since 2006.
The challenges to turn the economy around are significant, including reducing the overall costs of doing business and changing the perception that Rhode Island is an unfriendly place to do business. In addition, the state also faces a mismatch of talent with job needs.
Employers are looking for skilled and semi-skilled workers, especially for jobs in information technology, health care, science and technology. Occupations that employ workers with post-secondary education are growing faster than other occupations. However, there also are job opportunities in the trades where baby boomers are now retiring.
Unfortunately, for industries that are disappearing, the skills of these workers may not be of use in other industries. One result of this reality is the oft-cited problem of jobs going begging for in-state applicants with the required skills, as well as the reality that many workers who lost their jobs at the beginning of the recession in 2007 may not be qualified to fill job openings in 2012.
In 2011, 40.8 percent of Rhode Island residents 25 years and older had an associate, bachelor’s or graduate degree, compared with just under 50 percent in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. This puts Rhode Island in a disadvantaged competitive position in the region in terms of labor-force qualifications.
In addition, more than 45 percent of the Rhode Island population 25 years and older holds only a high school degree. Workers with only a high school education are facing increasing difficulties finding and retaining jobs in a global and highly competitive economy.
The demand for high-skilled labor in Rhode Island will increase in most employment sectors over the next decade. More highly skilled health professionals will be needed because of an aging population. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 50 percent of the fastest-growing occupations in the next five years will be related to health care. In Rhode Island, jobs such as medical records and health-information technicians and clinical laboratory technicians are expected to grow. Another occupation with strong growth potential for workers will be in so-called “clean” energy production and environmental protection.