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By Ted Nesi
PBN Web Editor
PROVIDENCE – The federal government’s broadest measure of unemployment in Rhode Island averaged 19.4 percent in the year ended March 31, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
The state’s “underemployment” rate rose 0.3 percentage points compared with the year ended Dec. 31, when it stood at 19.1 percent. The increase was the smallest since the government began reporting quarterly data in December 2008.
The underemployment rate has more than doubled since 2007, averaging 19.2 percent in 2009 and 13.2 percent in 2008.
At 19.4 percent, Rhode Island continued to have the sixth-worst underemployment rate of any state through March 31. The states with higher rates were Michigan and California (21.7 percent each), Oregon (20.5 percent), Nevada (20.4 percent) and South Carolina (19.7 percent).
The underemployment rate has now reached double digits in all but three states – South Dakota, Nebraska and North Dakota. The national figure was 16.7 percent for the 12 months ended March 31.
The Labor Department calculates five measures of what it calls “labor underutilization” in addition to the official unemployment rate, which averaged 11.5 percent in Rhode Island in the year ended March 31.
The broadest of those measures – officially called “U-6,” for its data classification name, and often referred to as the underemployment rate – counts those unemployed workers who are still looking for a job, as the official rate does. But U-6 also counts those unemployed workers who have become discouraged and stopped looking, and those who are only working part time because they cannot find a full-time job.
The U-6 measure is not released monthly, as the standard unemployment rate is, and since the rate represents a rolling four-quarter average, it may overstate or understate the current degree of joblessness.
Rhode Island’s underemployment rate continued to be by far the highest in New England in the most recent period. The figure averaged 15 percent in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, up from 14.5 percent and 14.4 percent, respectively.
For the U.S. as a whole, the U-6 measure stood at 17.1 percent in April, up from 16.9 percent in March, the Labor Department reported last month.
Rhode Island’s standard unemployment rate was 12.5 percent in April, the most recent month for which figures are available, according to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training. The U.S. unemployment rate was 9.9 percent.