Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Long Look Back at the Number of Employed Rhode Islanders

There are actually two different measures of employment that get published each month, although reporting generally tends to focus only on one of these. The most-frequently followed number, payroll employment, measures the number of jobs in Rhode Island. The other measure, which I have commented on in several recent posts is resident employment -- the number of Rhode Islanders who are employed.

There are several major differences between these measures, and they don't always provide the same picture of how well our state's labor market is performing. The major difference is that these come from two separate surveys. Payroll employment is derived from the Current Employment Survey (CES) until those estimated values are eventually updated and linked to the much more inclusive sample, the Establishment Survey. The realigning of these, which occurs with the release of the January date each February, is called rebenchmarking. Resident employment is derived from the Household Survey. The unemployment rate and labor force also come from this survey. It too will see data revisions when the January data are released in a few weeks.

Two other differences are highly significant. The first of these is that resident employment includes the number of jobs held by Rhode Island residents, whether they work in Rhode Island or at other locations. So, persons working in other states are included in this measure. Second, self-employment is reflected in resident employment, but not in payroll employment.

Theoretically, payroll employment is considered to be the more reliable way to track employment, based primarily on the fact that it has a much larger sample (eventually -- the Establishment Survey). But resident employment matters a great deal for Rhode Island since we "rent" so many of our residents out to nearby states for their jobs, and small businesses are such a critical part of our state's economy. Since payroll employment gets so much attention here, often to the exclusion of resident employment, in this post I will take us all the way back to the late 1970s and view resident employment since that time period.

The chart below (click to enlarge) shows how much resident employment each month has changed from the same month in the previous year (i.e., the year-over-year change).

I have made a number of annotations in this chart. The first relates to the largest rise in resident employment over this entire time span, which occurred in May of 1984. Some of you will recall that 1984 was the last year that manufacturing employment actually rose in Rhode Island, which is reflected in that large spike.

Things went downhill after that, as Rhode Island's manufacturing era ended in late 1987, and we eventually reached our largest decline up to that point as the banking crisis unfolded in 1991 (we were also in a recession at that time). We finally began to regain our footing by 1995, as declines in resident employment finally ended and it moved to its highest increase since the end of the manufacturing era.

One of the most striking features of how resident employment has behaved since 1995 has to be that  our peak increases have continued to diminish through time. The dashed red line shows this as a line of "resistance" -- lower highs through time. As for declines, had it not been for "The Great Recession," our lows would have remained somewhat contained, at decreases of around 10,000 (some containment!!). I have labelled this as a "support" line. Ironically, Rhode Island's last trough occurred in March of 2009, just as the stock market was bottoming!

According to these data, our most recent peak increase, which occurred in 2010, was also below the level we observed when payroll employment (the other measure) reached its peak all the way back in December of 2006. At the present time, the available data show that resident employment continues to decline relative to year-earlier levels by alarmingly large amounts, around 7,000.

As bad as that sounds, there is very likely to be reason for hope in this. That is also the case for the data I didn't discuss here, payroll employment. Historically, when data are revised higher in a given year, as Rhode Island saw last year, revisions the following year result in worse numbers. So, history is against us. From my reading of the set of all the economic numbers for Rhode Island that I follow, I expect the revised labor market data this year to show that our state's labor market performance has actually been better than we had been led to believe based on the data available up to this point. I haven't had the time to explore the likely levels that these revisions should take, but the upward revisions to the national data released last Friday gives further impetus to my expectation of upward revision. 

So, remember the monthly decline of about 6,000 jobs (payroll employment) a few months ago? I expect it to soon be revised away. Lately, has resident employment been as bad as the existing data and above chart show? I seriously doubt it, especially since resident employment includes Rhode Islanders who work in other states such as Massachusetts that are doing a lot better than we are. We'll just have to wait a few weeks to wait and see the final data revisions. While I expect the labor market here to have been performing better than we though, I don't expect any wild and large upward revisions, so let's not get carried away! After all, direction and magnitude are not the same thing. Had employment here been much higher than we had thought, tax revenues at this point would have risen far beyond the actual levels we have observed.

No comments:

Post a Comment