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RI ECONOMY

R.I. seeing ‘historically low unemployment’ but not growing jobs, RIPEC report finds

“When the growth is slowing, it means that employers are more cautious about hiring,” Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council CEO Michael DiBiase said

A company in Pawtucket looking to hire in April.Spencer Platt/Getty

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s economy is in an overall positive position, with some soft spots that continue to be a problem as the state emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis.

The Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, a Providence-based think tank, and the Center for Global and Regional Economic Studies at Bryant University released their joint Key Performance Indicators report for the third quarter of 2022 on Friday. It’s based on Department of Labor data.

“It’s relatively positive, because we have historically low unemployment,” said Michael DiBiase, RIPEC’s president and CEO. “If people want to get a job, there are jobs out there. However, we’re not growing jobs locally. We haven’t returned our local job level to the pre-pandemic level.”

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The good news: employment and the labor force participation rate both rose as more Rhode Islanders got jobs. The unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2022 was 2.9 percent, unchanged since the second quarter, and lower than the U.S. rate of 3.6 percent and the New England rate of 3.3 percent.

The less-good news: Rhode Island-based jobs still haven’t recovered from pre-pandemic levels. The nation has recovered its pre-pandemic jobs, but neither Rhode Island nor the New England region generally have. There are 7,700 fewer Rhode Island-based jobs than before the pandemic, a recovery of about 91 percent of the jobs lost when the pandemic began.

That might sound counter-intuitive, but one cause could be people who live in Rhode Island and can now work anywhere because of the shift toward working from home. That shift has to force a philosophical question about how much it even matters if Rhode Island becomes more of a bedroom community for jobs elsewhere, but it does speak to the state’s ability to create an environment to grow jobs.

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“When politicians say Rhode Island has recovered as fast or faster than anywhere, if you’re just looking at Rhode Island jobs, it’s not actually the case,” DiBiase said.

But there are some “very positive” developments — historic records of Rhode Islanders working, and historic lows in the unemployment rate, DiBiase said.

The trends come as the Federal Reserve tries to tamp down inflation, which would help curb the rise in prices that consumers are seeing but also slow the economy. And there are signs of that in this report: The total employment growth was slower than in recent quarters.

“There’s a lot of folks anticipating some kind of recession or slowdown,” DiBiase said. “When the growth is slowing, it means that employers are more cautious about hiring. It’s a sign about what we’re seeing elsewhere in the economy. We’re pursuing policies at the federal level to actually slow down the economy, so I think people are responding.”


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.