- Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island still lags in recovering from the recession, but the state is starting to catch up with its New England neighbors, a senior economist from Moody’s Analytics said Friday.

Aaron Smith presented an economic forecast to fiscal advisers for the House, Senate and Budget Office as part of the spring Revenue and Caseload Estimating Conference. They will use his data to help revise estimates for the state’s revenues that form the basis for the budget.

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is falling, and it’s recovering more of the jobs lost during the recession.

The unemployment rate has been among the highest in the nation for years and the worst in New England. It stood at 6.3 percent in March, which is one-tenth of a percentage point lower than Connecticut’s.

Rhode Island recovered 60 percent of the jobs that were lost - amounting to 24,100 jobs - surpassing Maine at 51 percent. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont have recovered all the jobs they have lost and have even added jobs, while Connecticut has gotten back about 78 percent of its jobs, according to the state Department of Labor and Training.

Rhode Island had a “steeper hill to climb” than many other New England states because the recession hit the state harder, Smith said.

Rhode Island’s recovery is still hindered by its low birth rate, high death rate and the fact that it doesn’t have a defining high-skilled industry to lift the state up, Smith said.

“You’re having trouble attracting people to the state and having trouble keeping people in the state,” he said.

Still, Rhode Island is clearly making steady progress, he added.

Nationally, a strong dollar is hurting exports and slowing economic growth, but Rhode Island isn’t as dependent on trade, and the pace of growth in employment in the state’s manufacturing sector is outperforming most other places, he added.

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