The nature of work in Rhode Island has changed over the last two dozen Labor Days and continues to evolve in numerous ways. The shift toward an economy centered on providing services, rather producing things, is apparent in the Ocean State and across the nation.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There are fewer Rhode Island factory workers and union members, more nurses and more culinary professionals. Jobs and wages have risen along with the number of working-age residents who have decided to leave the labor force.
The nature of work in Rhode Island has changed over the last two dozen Labor Days and continues to evolve in numerous ways.
The shift toward an economy centered on providing services, rather producing things, is apparent in the Ocean State and across the nation.
In July, there were 41,800 manufacturing jobs in the state, 53,500 fewer than there were in 1990 when the flight of factories to the South and overseas was already in full swing, according to statistics from the R.I. Department of Labor and Training.
What’s replaced those politically valued blue-collar jobs?
Health-care work, of course.
Health-care and social assistant employment rose from 51,400 jobs in 1990 to 81,200 this year.
The expansion of health-care jobs has continued even as consolidation has gripped the state’s hospital industry over the last decade. July health jobs have increased the last two years.
Education-related work (plus 8,500 jobs), the hospitality industry (plus 26,000 jobs), and the professional/business services sector (plus 22,600), also grew significantly over the past 27 years.
Among the sectors where employment has been relatively stable since 1990: construction, retail trade and government work.
In July, officials hailed figures showing that Rhode Island was now employing more people than before the onset of the recession.
What hasn’t come back with the jobs recovery, however, is the percentage of adult residents who are working, which remains down from historic levels across the country.
In 2007, just before the global financial crisis, 68.6 percent of the non-institutional civilian population 16 and older either had a job or said they wanted one, similar to another high point in 1990, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But each year since then the participation rate has declined. It hit 64.1 percent last January, the lowest level since 1979.
Nationally labor participation plunged from highs above 67 percent during the “dot-com boom” of the early 2000s to around 63 percent in late 2014.
A portion of the decline, both nationally and in Rhode Island, is likely a result of the population getting older. State-level participation rates for workers younger than 65 was not immediately available.
Rhode Island union membership has declined over the years, as it has nationally, but Ocean State workers remain more likely to be part of a collective-bargaining unit than those in most other states.
Last year, the most recent for which statistics were available, 15.5 percent of Rhode Island workers were union members and 16.9 percent were represented by unions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s dropped from 20.6 percent being union members in 1991, and 17.4 percent in 2011.
Even with the decline, Rhode Island union membership exceeded the 2016 national average of 10.6 percent.
How much do Rhode Islanders make?
Last year, the average annual wage was $49,558 for private-sector work and $51,439 if you include government work, according to R.I. Department of Labor and Training figures.
That’s an increase from a $33,592 average for all jobs in 2001, and $40,435 in 2007.
The national average annual wage last year was $49,630 per year, according to BLS.