Behind the Unemployment Headline

This is the good news that’s we’ve all heard being touted:

For the fourth month in a row, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate dipped slightly in April to 10.9 percent, the first time in 21 months it has fallen below 11 percent.
Additionally, the number of jobs in the state grew by 1,800 from March to April to 462,200, according to data released Friday by the state Department of Labor and Training. April was the third month in a row the number of jobs in the state has grown.

Read a little farther — almost to the end of the article — and you find that “growth” can have strange meanings:

The number of unemployed Rhode Island residents dropped by 900 from March to April to 62,100. That’s 5,500 fewer people who are now counted as unemployed compared with April 2010.
Rhode Island’s labor force equaled 571,100 in April, down 900 from March, and down 5,100 from April 2010.

That is, on the month-to-month basis, the drop in unemployment and the number of people who left the labor force are an exact match. I’ll withhold judgment on Rhode Island’s pending recovery until such time as the unemployment rate falls because people who weren’t working now are. Otherwise, the statement’s a bit like declaring the health of our people to be improving because sick people have been dying off.

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