R.I. unemployment rate hit 17% in April

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate rocketed to 17% in April as the coronavirus pandemic pushed tens of thousands of people out of work, the state labor department said Thursday.

There were 90,300 Rhode Island residents without jobs last month, 63,800 more than in March, when the jobless rate was 4.7%. A year ago Rhode Island’s unemployment rate was 3.6%, 13.4 percentage points lower.

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The size and speed of job losses triggered by COVID-19 is unprecedented.

Before April, the 11.3% Rhode Island unemployment rate after the recession in 2010 had been the highest since 1976, when the Department of Labor and Training began keeping the statistics.

The surge in Rhode Islanders out of work exceeded the similarly massive national spike in unemployment, which rose from 4.4% in March to 14.7% last month.

Rhode Island employers shed 9,900 jobs in March and another 88,000 last month, according to newly revised figures. That sent the number of jobs in the state tumbling from a record high of 508,400 in February to 409,700 last month.

“Today’s jobs numbers convey the immense extent of economic hardship that the COVID-19 crisis has brought upon Rhode Island workers and families,” Department of Labor and Training Director Scott Jensen said in an email. “As many look forward to getting back to work, it remains critical that we follow the orders of public health officials to wear masks and social distance so that we can prevent further spread and reopen the economy as quickly — but as safely — as possible.”

Job losses cut across almost every sector of the economy, but were worst in leisure and hospitality.

Accommodation and food services, which includes bars, restaurants, hotels and caterers, lost 31,300 workers, a 63% change from March to April.

Health-care and social assistance shed 14,300 workers, a 17.5% drop, as “declines were felt in all phases of health care including offices of physicians, dentists, other health-care practitioners and nursing and residential care facilities,” the DLT wrote. “Among the social assistance component, services for the elderly and disabled, individual and family services, vocational rehabilitation services and child daycare services were all negatively impacted by the pandemic.”

Retailers lost 8,700 workers, an 18% drop.

Professional and business services lost 10,100 jobs, a 15% decline.

The only two sectors spared large job losses from March to April were wholesale trade and information, which posted very small declines.

panderson@providencejournal.com

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On Twitter: PatrickAnderso_

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