Edinaldo Tebaldi joined the Department of Economics at Bryant University in 2007. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of New Hampshire in 2005 with concentrations in international economics and economic growth and development. Tebaldi also worked as a consultant in the area of economic development for the World Bank and serves currently as the Rhode Island co-forecast manager for the New England Economic Partnership. We asked him about the state’s recent unemployment figures.
PBN: New unemployment figures for the state were released last week and there was little movement. Are those numbers expected to increase or decrease significantly soon?
TEBALDI: No. In Rhode Island they may change a little over the next few months but not much. The state’s economy is stuck, there has been very low job creation, and that is expected to continue for the next few quarters. That is the sense we are getting from the data.
PBN: If that is the case, what are other states doing that Rhode Island just doesn’t seem to understand?
TEBALDI: The question isn’t what are they doing right now, it’s what they’ve done in the past. The economy reacts due to many different factors and many times it takes a while to see the outcome of the changes you have made. Sometimes it takes a very long time, and most of the actions that are taken are in reality long-time decisions.
PBN: What long-term decisions has the state made in the past that are now impediments to the future economic growth?
TEBALDI: It has been discussed before but the first problem is the labor force. We need to ask the question “Are the people that are unemployed, are they qualified to take the jobs that are available here?” I think the answer is not all of them. A very large portion of the population doesn’t have the skills that are now needed in our labor market, not only here in Rhode Island but elsewhere in the region.
PBN: We have heard about job skills and job training, especially since 2008. Is this too simplistic?
TEBALDI: There are high paying jobs that are, of course, better than low paying jobs. But any job is better than no job. The labor force will always be made of people with different skills and different educations. Not everyone will be working for hi-tech companies. For example, take the leisure and hospitality sector; they are not high paying sectors, but the jobs they provide are important to a very large segment of our economy.
Job creation in any sector is a good thing, but there has to growth in other sectors as well.
With regards to skills and training, the unemployment rate for those in the state with advanced degrees is low, about 4 percent. On the other end, for those who are high school dropouts, it is 25 percent, and 15 percent for those with only high school degrees. It’s the 25 and 15 percent who won’t be able to get hi-tech, high paying jobs.
PBN: Is hi-tech the answer?
TEBALDI: Rhode Island has a small high-tech center that has about 25,000 jobs in the state. The forecast is that the sector will keep growing but job creation there won’t be large enough or happen fast enough to reduce the unemployment rate. We need job creation across the board. There will be no one sector that will help us. Some sectors need to be improved upon but there is no single answer to mitigate the unemployment problem.