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Rhode Island Has the Country’s Worst Job Market

When it comes to the economy, the Ocean State is still deep under water.

Five years after the recession ended, many of the hardest-hit states are at last seeing significant economic progress. In Michigan, the unemployment rate has dropped 6.7 points since 2009, from a worst-in-the-nation 14.2 percent in 2009 to 7.5 percent in May. California, as I noted in April, is experiencing one of the strongest economic rebounds of any state; the Golden State has regained all of the 1.3 million jobs lost in the recession (although that doesn’t adjust for the 2.5 million residents the state has added since 2007). Even Nevada, ground zero for the housing crisis, finally saw its unemployment rate dip below 8 percent in May for the first time since 2008, according to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Then there’s Rhode Island. The state’s unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in May, making it the last state still above the 8 percent mark. It has now had the nation’s highest unemployment rate for seven straight months. (Before that, Nevada had held the dubious distinction for more than three and a half years.)

The unemployment rate often isn’t the best way to measure the health of an economy, but Rhode Island’s recovery has been weak by just about any measure. The state still has 2 percent fewer jobs than when the recession began, and it experienced the slowest rate of job growth of any of the five hardest-hit states (as measured by each state’s respective low point for jobs). Per-person economic output grew just 1.3 percent in Rhode Island last year, and its income growth ranks among the nation’s worst.

Rhode Island isn’t the worst by every metric. States such as Arizona and Alabama are even further from recovering the jobs they lost in the recession, while others such as New Mexico and New Jersey have seen slower job growth in the recovery (both states have actually lost jobs in the past year). And despite its improvement, Nevada is still the furthest behind its prerecession economic output and personal income.

There are some signs that Rhode Island might be coming out of its funk. The state ranks near the middle of the pack in terms of job growth over the past year, and the share of the population that is working has been edging up. But it has a long way to go. At its current rate of job growth, Rhode Island won’t recover the jobs lost in the recession for more than three years.

Ben Casselman is a senior editor and the chief economics writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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