By ERIKA NIEDOWSKIPROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) â¿¿ Rhode Island's chronically high unemployment rate ticked down again â¿¿ to its lowest level in four years â¿¿ though the size of the workforce shrunk from the previous month, according to statistics released Thursday. The state Department of Labor and Training said the jobless rate in January was 9.8 percent, down one-tenth of 1 percentage point from December and a full point from a year ago. December was the first time the state unemployment rate fell under 10 percent since February 2009, although Rhode Island had the highest jobless rate in the country that month. The report had good news on the hiring front: The number of Rhode Island-based jobs was 468,400, a gain of 2,800 from the revised December estimates. The two strongest sectors were accommodations and food services and retail trade, which added a total of 2,700 positions. Still, the size of the labor force â¿¿ while up from a year ago â¿¿ shrunk in January by 1,400, to 561,800. The number of employed residents was also down 700, to 506,900. The U.S. jobless rate was 7.9 percent, up one-tenth of 1 percentage point from December. A year ago, the national rate was 8.3 percent. Charlie Fogarty, director of the Department of Labor and Training, said the state economy continues to move in the right direction and noted that the recovery in Rhode Island over the past year has taken place at a much faster rate than the nation as a whole. "The trend is good, we're picking up steam and we want to see it improve," he said. "Obviously, we want to see a more vigorous and robust recovery." Statistics released for all 50 states last week showed Rhode Island had the highest jobless rate nationwide in December. Nevada and California were tied for second-highest, with 9.8 percent.
Said Fogarty: "We're not looking to be No. 1 in that category."Rhode Island's unemployment rate peaked at 11.9 percent in 2010.